Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thinning the herd - Guess Who Got Voted Off the Island?

Yes, I must share the bad news, we may soon be losing part of the family.  I need to downsize this collection before it gets out of hand and through the process of elimination I have decided that my 201 will probably be the first to go.

Recap of the inventory:
 Singer 201-2

Classic Singer favorite and usually regarded as one of their finest machines and I can understand why.  The stitches are sheer perfection and this machine runs so smoothly and quietly it is a joy to use.  It has the horizontal rotary hook configuration which means drop-in bobbin (Class 66).   An occasional searing of the flesh is the payoff for the lamp located on the front of the machine.  Tension is located on the front as well.  This machine is installed in a cabinet now and I rarely bring her out to play anymore because truthfully I enjoy sewing on my other machines more than this one.

Singer 15-91

The Runner-Up in the full size, mid-century, straight stitch Singer category.  I'm not sure why this machine gets second billing because to be honest, she is faster and more powerful than the 201.  With a vertical, oscillating hook this machine isn't quite as smooth and quiet but it stitches much faster and with more assurance (it will plow through anything without complaint - up over thick seams and down the other side with no hesitation). The upper tension is located on the faceplate making threading somewhat awkward. Inserting the vertical bobbin (Class 15) is no big deal once you've done it several hundred times.  :)
But above all else, this machine belonged to my Mom and was handed down to me.  She absolutely stays.

Singer 221 Featherweight

There just isn't anything to say about a Singer Featherweight that millions of people don't already know.  The Perfect Portable and all that.  Cute factor off the charts.  This 1956 model is a beautiful, shiny specimen.  There is some slight wear to the front edge decals which makes it "okay" to actually use this machine.  Her case, manual and accessory box are all in excellent condition and she has all the toys and goodies.  A little black box full of fun!  She stays.

Singer 221 Centennial Edition

This one is all that and a bag of chips!  Which is to say that not only is she a beautiful machine - nearly pristine in every way - she has the blue 1951 Centennial badge for Singer's 100th Year.   She is too beautiful to actually use and strangely enough she doesn't sew nearly as fast as my other Featherweight and I have never been able to figure out why.  (That is the subject of a previous entry.)  This one is for Show, not for Sew.

Singer 503 "Rocketeer"

This machine will never win any prizes for straight stitching among its peers (although I suspect it can sew circles around many machines made today.)  But it is, quite simply, one of the coolest sewing machines I've ever seen.  Its not my fastest, most powerful, or best straight stitching machine.  But it is my only zigzag model and it has 20+ cams for decorative stitches.  This is also my only mocha machine - everyone else is Classic Black.  He stays if only to do the tasks that the others can't do and to make me smile when I look at him.

Singer 301

This one just joined the family last week and is now my favorite, bestest, most wonderful fantastic machine EVER!!  Why didn't anyone ever let me in on this secret?  I have never particularly coveted a 301, I figured it was just another variation on the theme and I didn't perceive that it had any outstanding feature other than being a bigger edition of the Featherweight.  WRONG!  Don't let the folding bed and carrying case fool you into thinking that this is just an overgrown cousin of the darling, dainty Featherweight (like I did.)   Let your Featherweight do her thing - charming machine that she is - and show her off at your quilting classes.  But for real sewing oomph, snatch up one of these if you are ever lucky enough to find one.  

Let me try to explain it this way:

Take the smooth sewing action of the 201 with it's rotary hook, the speed and power of the 15-91 with it's vertical bobbin, the portability of the 221, and the slant shank of the 503. Wrap them all up into one and you now have this ultimate machine.  It really does have the best of ALL features from my other machines.  And it is the hands down winner for speed.  None of the others even come close...


A while back I did a speed test of all my machines then I compared the 301 and the results were stunning. In 15 seconds (at 12 sts/inch), the machines stitched the following number of inches:

Singer 201 - 11 inches

Singer 221 (1951 model)  - 13 inches

Singer 503 - 14 inches

Singer 221 (1956 model) - 18 inches

Singer 15-91 - 19 inches

Singer 404 - 24 inches

Singer 301 - 31 inches !!!!   That is nearly THREE TIMES faster than the Queen of Machines!

Now I will concede that there is undoubtedly some variation among individual machines - obviously between my two 221's there is quite a difference.  But for the 301 to reach speeds DOUBLE the average of all the other machines, that leaves it the indisputable champion.  

UPDATE:  The 201 has gone to a new home.  The new owner tried her out and loved her.  She wasn't too concerned about the speed, but she was VERY impressed with how quiet this machine is and how beautiful the stitches are.  (I have to admit that yes, this is the quietest sewing machine I have ever heard.)  She has been teaching her daughter to sew and found that the cheap modern machines were only causing frustration because the stitch quality wasn't good.  This machine will totally meet her needs.  It doesn't need to do 1500 spm, it just needs to be simple to use and give a good quality stitch.   I am very happy that she found a machine that meets her needs and will be used and loved. :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Babylock BL3-408 = The Best $50 I Ever Spent

DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND: You can download the  BABY LOCK BL3-408 Serger Manual here.  I have scanned and saved it to a file sharing program because so many people have asked for it. 

Not a vintage Singer this time, but a "nearly" vintage Babylock Serger (BL3-408) aka "The Best $50 I Ever Spent".

Actually it does rather look like an antique! 

I learned to sew in the 1970's before sergers were commonly available for home use.   In the 1980's-'90's I didn't sew a lot, and certainly not enough to consider buying a serger.  In fact I was still sewing on my Singer 15-91 - I didn't even have a zigzag machine!  

Like lots of old school sewers I figured I didn't need a serger, I was happy to do everything the old-fashioned way.  Besides they looked WAY too complicated to someone sewing on a vintage straight stitch machine.  

But as I began to step up my sewing in the last decade, it occurred to me that having a serger to finish off seams would really give my sewing a nice touch.  It wasn't until I came across a CL ad for this machine a few years ago that I finally took the plunge.  I actually liked the fact that it was older and didn't have the bells and whistles (the owner was selling it because she was getting a boss new machine herself.)   Yep, just $50, and she still had it in the original box with the original manual and accessories.  

First of all, here's what it DOESN'T do:  

It doesn't have automatic air-jet threading or differential feed or half a dozen threads (just three).  It doesn't do a cover stitch or fancy decorative stitches.  There is no automatic tension or anything else.  Everything is done manually.

What it DOES do:   Finish seams.  Narrow rolled hems.  Period

Today's example:  a child's flannel nightie

I needed a narrow, rolled hem for the collar.  And as much as I love my vintage Singers, I will admit that no attachment I've tried will make a narrow hem on a curve like this (no, not even that little rolled edge hemmer foot.  It works best on straight hems and even then is tricky to pull it off.)  

So in only "14 Easy Steps", I change from 3-Thread serging to  Narrow Rolled Hemming. 

(You think I'm kidding?) 

 And here we go - a lovely narrow rolled hem.  

My other favorite application is the seam finish.  14 steps to switch back to the 3-thread overlock and I'm ready to serge the yoke seam on the nightie.  I have never used any other serger, so don't have any basis for comparision, but I am pleased that it zips right through these layers - including the gathered layer - quickly and easily.  The result is a nice finish that I couldn't duplicate on a sewing machine.

(The zigzag stitches in this picture were for gathering.  On full skirts, I like to ZZ over a heavy thread for gathering.  It is much quicker and easier than the double rows of long basting stitches and much less likely to break.)

A neat seam and facing finish with layers of thick fleece. No balking even when crossing seams.

And THAT, my friends, is all it does!  It is a bee-atch to thread it.  It involves contortions, instruments and a few bad words to get the job done.  The tensions have to be manually tweaked and adjusted.   But I've been using it 4-5 years now and its never once let me down.  It is all metal like my sewing machines and weighs a good hefty 18 lbs so it stays in place no matter how heavy the fabric I'm running through it.   It handles a range of fabric weights with ease even though changing stitch length requires a screwdriver.   I have to oil it just like my sewing machines - but I am used to that so no big deal.

Do I want one of these?  No!  Really and truly, I don't. :)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A New Addition to the Family - Just in Time for Christmas! Singer 301

Well this was a nice surprise!  I already posted this story on PR but I'll tell it here too.

Of course I've barely had time to sew, look at sewing machines, or even think about sewing machines for almost a year now.   Being a full time college student has kept me busier than I ever imagined!  But finals were over last week and I've been doing the frantic holiday preparation thing.  Yesterday - gray, drizzly and completely dreary - I had dragged myself through a day of volunteer work and errands and was heading home when I saw a sign for an Estate Sale.  I was hungry, tired and irritable and the sale was out of my way.  Besides, I had too much Christmas shopping to do anyway so why bother with an Estate Sale?  But still... I love Estate Sales... (Not yard sales, but bona fide Estate Sales - big difference.)

There was a ton of stuff there - the usual furniture, china, pots and pans, clothing, household items.  I didn't see anything I really wanted and was just about to leave when the owner spoke to me on the way out the door.  I kind of asked him offhand if they happened to have any sewing items, just in case I missed something - fabric, patterns, notions, that kind of thing.

He said, "Did you see the sewing machine?"

Yes, even the slant shank buttonholer was included in the $10 purchase!

And he pointed to this beautiful, pristine 301, sitting on the floor in the corner.

Just as I headed towards it, another shopper, overhearing this exchange, headed it for it too.  I quickly asked how much it was and when he said $10 I said, "I'll take it!" and grabbed it a moment before the other guy could get his hands on it.  I could hardly get the $10 out of my pocket fast enough.

I saw it first!!!  ;)

What a deal.  It is a beautiful, clean, well cared for machine.  The decals and finish are nearly perfect. It came with the original green box and all the feet (that alone is worth at least $25) and even included a buttonholer.  It has the cradle which you use to insert into a regular Singer cabinet and then release the machine when you want to use it as a portable.  Cool!  (It has the power cord - but alas was missing the controller.)

I've never used a 301 so this is a new adventure for sure.  It really rounds out my collection of vintage Singers.  From what I've read, this was the last of the beautiful black & gold Singers.  With this model, they were updating their look and you can see in the styling that they were going for a more sleek and modern look - although curiously it is rather Art Deco in style.  The spool of thread stays out of sight behind the machine so as not to detract from the lines, I guess (also to make it easier to put in a case for portability maybe?)

Although it is often compared with the 221, I see little resemblance since this is a full sized machine.  It does have the aluminum body which makes it "light" (for an all metal machine, anyway.)  The only other thing it really has in common with the 221 is the vertical rotary hook and bobbin.  But it is Singer's first slant shank model, which was a big innovation for them at the time.  Fortunately, it not only came with a collection of feet AND a slant shank buttonholer, but I have plenty of slant shank accessories for Bud, my 503.  Since it has the same bobbin case as my 221, then I have plenty of bobbins for it as well.

Stitch length regulator - very Art Deco looking!

UPDATE:  It took a little tinkering to get the perfect stitch.  I don't think this machine had been used in quite a while.  It was very clean inside (no lint, crud, rust or grease build up) although quite dusty on the outside.  I had several minor - though frustrating - issues.  But RESOLVED - and the results are worth it. Beautiful stitch.  Notice how it twists perfectly off the end.  Lovely!  (Blue is top side/white is bobbin side.)

And this machine is super fast, I clocked it at nearly 1500 stitches/minute!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Getting My Vintage Fix On

So.... the months have gone by and the sewing room has been unused.  Flea markets and yard sales have been unpicked and Craigslist postings have come and gone - leaving great deals for other buyers, I imagine. Going back to school full time is *ahem* FULL TIME work!  Then having a houseful of visitors all summer has kept me busy as well.  With a quiet week until school starts back, I wanted a quick sewing fix.  

In the past couple of years I have grabbed vintage fabrics wherever I could find them and somewhere I picked up this.  I can't even figure out what the items were, but I believe they were cafe curtains (they have rod pockets.)  This is quite a heavy fabric for curtains, though, so I'm not sure.  Anyway, the print is VERY cool!

 Also, along the way, I have stocked up on vintage notions like this rick rack (100% cotton, like you can't find anymore) and old metal Talon zippers.   Rummaged around in my stock and made a little zippered pouch out of these odds and ends.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this print!

Okay, I could do this all day long .... make useless little items out of salvaged fabrics and with my vintage sewing machines while listening to "Leave it to Beaver" in the background... poke around estate sales looking for old fabric.   What fun!

But next week its back to the books...  :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Teaching Little Girls to Sew, Singer Pinking Attachment, etc.

(Another quick post while I'm on Spring Break and have a little time to dabble with my sewing toys.)

These are two of my favorite old sewing booklets, handed down from my Mom.  "Teaching Little Girls to Sew" was much loved and much used by me when I was learning to sew in the early '70's.  I didn't have the cool sewing machine shown on the cover - a Singer Sew Handy, I think - but I learned to sew on my Mom's 15-91 (now MY 15-91!)   I made almost all the projects in that booklet, including a needle case, an oven mitt, an apron...all "girlie" projects.  (They didn't even pretend to be "Teaching Little Boys to Sew"!)

The pink book I still refer to because it shows how to use all the standard Singer attachments - plus some of the additional ones:
the Singer Fabric Gripper 

The Automatic Zig Zagger

The coveted  "Black Penguin" Walking Presser Foot

This walking foot now sells for astronomical sums - up to $500+.     It is my dream to find one of these during routine Estate Sale reconnaissance missions.   It remains on my list of must-have items because it is the one and only item in this manual that I don't have.  

The fabric gripper, which is hard to find (at least I have rarely seen them anywhere) came along for the ride with one of my sewing machine purchases.

 Ditto the awesome Singer Pinking Attachment

This is really cool!  It fits on any low shank machine and effortlessly turns out miles of perfectly pinked (or more accurately "scalloped") fabric.

Although not a vintage Singer item, another fantastic "stowaway" (in some random sewing basket I picked up for $10) was this set of Hoffritz pinking shears.  Best I have EVER used.

So I'm way good for pinking - either by hand or machine.   

To wind this up, the Moral of the Story is that goodies hide out in the most innocuous places.   When I'm at a Garage Sale/Estate Sale and I see a ratty old sewing basket, I DIVE for it.  Great things are sometimes hidden inside (and lots of smaller, less valuable, but equally cool items as well.)   

And one day, yes one day, I will find that walking foot!  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Beauties and The Beasts - Singer 221 and 503

Okay, this is where I left it last time, trying to choose a keeper.  The more beautiful machine -the Centennial 221 - which sews more slowly?  Or the nice, but not quite as snazzy 1956 model that sews much faster?  It would be so much easier if the beautiful machine was the superior one, but it just never works out that way for me.

Its not just the Featherweights that have presented me this dilemma.  I had the same situation with two 503 Rocketeers:

Left is the Beauty, Right is the Beast (with a duller finish and many more nicks and dings)

In both these situations the shabbier model sewed so much better that it left me with a true dilemma (a slight difference wouldn't have mattered and I'd have kept the pretty machine.)

So in both cases, I made the same decision:  I sold the beautiful machine.  They both performed adequately, and without the other machines to compare them to, I might not have even realized that they weren't running as well as they could (the new owners got nice machines for fair prices.)

With the Featherweights, I figured that I would be happier sewing on the model that was less cosmetically perfect anyway, because I wouldn't be worried about marring the finish.  Its for Sew rather than just Show.  The Rocketeers don't really have the same collector value, so cosmetic condition is only something that matters to the owner.  Since this is a machine I really do depend on, I need the best possible performance.

I now have the "second-best" looking machines, but I am content to know that they are tops in performance. And after all, that's what a sewing machine is really for.