Friday, August 3, 2018

Another Fun Gadget, the Underbraider

This is a gadget that I believe came standard in the attachment set of the older machines - I'm talking about the OLD black Singers from the early 20th century.  At that time, it was probably common to adorn garments with braid, thus the underbraider which attached it from the bobbin-facing side of the fabric, as the name implies.

For this attachment, it doesn't matter which shank type you have, but you do have to have a machine which has the holes in the bed and the throat plate that match up with the slot to screw it on, and the little clamp that holds it in place.  The majority of old Singers have this configuration - this is on my Singer 237.

So what you do is insert braid, or whatever 1/8" embellishment you're using, into the slot:

Another thing you must have is the short, open-toed quilting foot.  A regular straight stitch presser foot won't work because the toes are too long and too close together to allow for the slot that feeds the braid/ribbon.


Here's a good thing to know: if you don't have that type of quilting foot available, then you can use your button foot!  That is what I'm using here.  It is almost exactly the same and works perfectly well.

So naturally you match your bobbin thread to the embellishment you are sewing on which is going onto the right side of the fabric which is face down.  If you are following some kind of outline or design, you can sketch that on the back of the fabric which is face up.  Now sew!

Let me take a moment and point out how quietly and smoothly this machine sews.  I like it better each time I use it.   Excellent machine!

And here is the right side  (this fabric sample is an old press cloth so please excuse the scorch marks!)

What I think will be even more useful for me is sewing on tiny rick-rack.  If you are so lucky as to have some vintage baby rick-rack, this is the perfect gadget for sewing it on.  (Modern baby rick-rack isn't as tiny as the older kind, and may not fit.)

I collect vintage rick-rack.  I love this stuff!

So if you are making a hem, for example, and want rick-rack along the hemline, you can do it in one operation from the wrong side.

You can't tell, but this is very tiny rick-rack, just 1/8" wide

The top thread popped through a bit here, so I could have adjusted the tensions.  But you can still get the idea.

This gadget won't necessarily rock your world, but if you happen to find one in an old box of attachments like I did, now you'll know what to do with it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Stitching Lightweight Fabric on 401

(Bonus post today!)

In response to a discussion on sewing fine fabrics without puckering, I decided to once again highlight my Singer 401.  (Previously, I did a post about stitching stretch fabrics on this machine.)  Machines are most often demonstrated sewing through multiple layers of denim or leather - even aluminum cans - to prove how strong they are.  But it is just as important that you can sew delicate fabrics.

Naturally, I'm partial to vintage Singer machines, so I'm going to demonstrate how well some of them really sew.  They can hold their own and even excel against modern machines.  If you consider the price point (I bought this one for $50 including the cabinet) you can't beat it at ten times that amount.  Few machines made today - and certainly not in an affordable category - can sew better than this.

So for the lightweight fabric I'm using this.  Its a very light, sheer cotton/polyester blend.

It's important to use the right needle and thread, of course.  Fine thread and size 9 needle.

For best results, use the straight stitch foot with the straight stitch throat plate.  This prevents very fine fabrics from being pushed down into the feed dogs by the needle and having your fabric chewed up.

And set your machine with the lightest presser foot pressure adjustment (that knob on top left screwed almost all the way out), a very short stitch (about 20 stitches/inch), and a light upper tension.  The 401, as well as most Singers of this era, has all these adjustments so you can really fine-tune your sewing.  Nothing is automatic here, you make all these adjustments with knobs and levers.

(sorry for the dark photo!)

Now here are the results:

This is a curve, to mimic stay-stitching or sewing on the bias.  Smooth as can be!

By contrast, the upper line of stitching is done with size 14 needle, all purpose thread, longer stitch length, and medium presser foot pressure.  BIG difference.

                                                And a straight seam, beautifully stitched.

What more can you ask of a sewing machine?

Civil War era dress

 Most of this blog is about collecting Singer machines and accessories, but I actually use them, too!  I am not an accomplished seamstress, but such as it is here is my most recent project.

In order to do interpretations at local history venues, I made this "working" dress from the Civil War era.  I am kind of shooting blindly with this, because I don't have a direct source work with, but having found this silhouette to follow, I adapted a pattern to copy it pretty closely

I'll mention that my level of authenticity is probably about a 7/10.  I wanted the cut, style, fabric, and sewing techniques to be as close to the period as I could reasonably meet.  I intended it to be more of a reproduction garment than a costume - so no zippers, for example. (HERE is an example of a costume I was commissioned to make from their choice of pattern and fabric.)  At the same time,  it has to be feasible for me to produce this, so I'm going to take advantage of "shortcuts," with my handy Singer gadgets.

Here's one of them:  The ruffler on my 237 Fashion Mate which did a wonderful job of pleating the skirt.  In just a couple of minutes, nearly four yards of fabric were perfectly, and evenly pleated.

It was probably at least twenty years after the Civil War before anyone would have had a sewing machine at home (a treadle, of course) so this would have all been stitched by hand, including the buttonholes.  In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder described how she made buttonholes by hand:  

It is not easy to space buttonholes exactly the same distance apart and it is very difficult to cut them precisely the right size...  When she had cut the buttonholes, Laura whipped the cut edges swiftly, and swiftly covered them with the small, knotted stitches, all precisely the same length and closely set together.  She so hated making buttonholes that she had learned to do them quickly and get it over with.  

When I considered making my buttonholes by hand - since the stitching would be visible on the garment - I remembered that passage, and I thought nah....  So my 237 cranked them out in a couple of minutes with the Singer Automatic Buttonholer:

And I did fabric covered buttons, which I think looked great with those machine-stitched buttonholes (still need to sew on two more.)

This dress was adapted from Butterick 5831, although I made lots of changes from a full-skirted evening dress in a sheer, drapey fabric to a more practical every day calico work dress with a more fitted bodice.

Don't know if this would pass muster with the most hard-core Civil War reenactors, but for my purposes it will do nicely.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Isn't She Lovely! Sky Blue Singer 338

This week I did something for the VERY FIRST TIME.

I went online and bought a sewing machine that I specifically wanted!  What I've always done is to watch estate sales, thrift stores, and local ads for interesting machines.  I like the thrill of the hunt and coming across machines I wasn't really expecting.  But this time I did it the other way around, and sought a specific machine to go with THIS gadget:

A flower stitch foot
(I borrowed this image, this one isn't mine.)

Well I just thought these were so cool I had to have one.  Only thing is, they don't come in a slant shank version, and the only machine I have that can make decorative stitches is my 401.  So I had to find a machine that will work with it.

My requirements were:

1.  Vintage Singer zigzag with all metal gears
2.  Low shank
3.  Takes fashion discs

A 328 or 338 exactly fits the bill.  I used to have a 328 that I sold a while back and wish now I had kept it.  I started hunting for another one and found this one on Shop Goodwill.  Even better because it's blue! 

Seriously, isn't this PRETTY??

I bid on another one just like it and when the bidding got too high ($62 + shipping) I dropped out.  This one was my second choice since the listing said that it "does not power on."  Hmmm....well I saw that it came with the power cord/controller, so I couldn't see how it could possibly fail to power on.  I've picked up dozens of old electric Singers and I have yet to find one that won't power on.  No one else bid on it, so I got it for $11.99 + shipping.  

And guess what -  it arrived a couple of days later in perfect condition.  I plugged it in and it powered on and sewed perfectly.  Here is a situation where the merchandise was NOT as described, but to my advantage!

These are the eight "fashion disc" stitches that originally came with this machine.   Nice!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Singer Stylist 457 - replaced the gear and ready to roll

I have been venturing out further from my original interest in the old black Singers of the 1940s-1950s.  First I branched out to the Slant-O-Matics of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Then I starting coming across various late-1960s models that kind of bridge the gap between the classic all metal machines that last practically forever, and the machines with a more limited life span due to nylon gears and more plastic parts.

This one is right on the cusp - the Singer Stylist 457 from 1969.  For the most part, this is still a solid, metal machine, but it DOES have some nylon gears which are bound to deteriorate after a few decades of use.

Singer Stylist 457

Now, I didn't go out seeking this machine, but it just "found" me at a thrift store.  It was less than $20 and I knew before I bought it that it would almost certainly need new gears. Sure enough, before I even tried to run it, I opened it up and found this bad boy (on the right) lurking inside.  This is the top gear that turns the vertical shaft that drives the machine.

Gear on the right has crumbled to pieces, but it's worth replacing.

Happily, these gears are still available and only cost about $10 so I was able to replace it.  That's basically all it took to get this machine back in tip-top condition.  Of course I also had to time the hook after I was done, but that isn't as mysterious as it sounds and it worked out fine.  The stitches are actually pretty nice.

Nice stitching, can't complain.

All it does is straight, zigzag, and blind stitch, but for 99% of your sewing that's all you'll ever need.  It has three needle positions, so you can make your four-step buttonholes, and it takes a twin needle so you can hem your knits or even make a little decorative stitching.

In spite of being a rotary hook machine, this isn't the fastest or quietest machine I've ever used, but it gets the job done.  (Surprisingly, the 237 Fashion Mate, a cheaper machine in its day and with a vertical oscillating hook, runs smoother than this one.)

If you happen to come across one of these for under $50, it might be worth your while to pick it up even knowing that you'll most likely have to replace the top gear.  If you DIY, it's just $10 for the price of the gear and less than an hour of your time.

I don't need more sewing machines around the house, but it is kinda cool to be able to "rescue" them from a thrift store where people just chuck their old machines that no longer work.  Bringing them back to life so they can be used again is very rewarding.

PS... I sold it  :)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Singer Automatic Zigzagger Stitch Patterns

I have covered the Automatic Zigzagger before, but since lots of people have been talking about it lately, I thought I'd show all the pattern stitches.  Anyone searching for info on these might like to see how they look, all stitched out.

To recap, there are four sets of four cams as follows:
  • Set #1 - RED cams that come with the zigzagger
  • Set #2 - RED or WHITE cams (they are the same patterns, but the later ones were painted white to differentiate them from the red Set #1)
  • Set #3 - BLUE cams
  • Set #4 - YELLOW cams

 The second stitch from the top isn't attractive, but it is useful as a blind stitch.  I show how it is used HERE.

So here you have it, all SIXTEEN different stitch patterns you can make with your Singer Automatic Zigzagger on any straight stitch sewing machine.  And they don't look half bad. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Pinking Attachment and Hemstitcher on Singer 237 - A Burning Question!

So a thought popped into my head the other day, and I had to follow up on it.  I recently acquired this Singer 237 Fashion Mate and debated whether to keep it.   One thing in its favor is that it is a low shank, while the machines I usually sew on - 301 and 401 - are slant shank.  I thought it'd be convenient to have around for using my low shank attachments.

(I do have a 15-90, retrofitted into a treadle, and a 221, but I rarely use either of those)

Then I wondered - would this work on those really old attachments like the Automatic Pinking Attachment and/or the Hemstitcher?

Let's see.  We'll start with the Pinking Attachment...

This attachment DOES work on the 237 with one modification:  you have to remove the face plate because it protrudes too far to allow you to attach the pinker.  It's not really a big deal (you have one screw to remove) and after that it works perfectly.

Well that is the good news!

Now for the hemstitcher.  As you can see in this previous post (Singer Hemstitcher) this attachment requires a special throat plate specific to each machine - it was designed for the 201, 15-90/91, 66/99, 221.  This was decades before the 237 came along, by which time the hemstitcher was "obsolete."  It wasn't designed to work on this machine.  But would it?

The throat plate is, after all, the same as the 15-91, and that is the crucial element.  And yes, it DOES fit this machine!  

The hemstitcher fits on this machine as well.

So far, so good.  Except not...

I'm here to report that this could work except for one teensy, but crucial detail.  Like the face plate that gets in the way of installing the pinking attachment, the needle thread guide impedes the hemstitcher from completing its movement and making a stitch.  It hits the attachment so the needle can't go all the way down.  Darn.


If you have a 237 and you have your heart set on hemstitching with it, I suppose it is possible to temporarily remove or reposition that thread guide.  I will confess that I did not even try to do it, because I don't want to hemstitch that badly.  It is tantalizing, though, to know that everything fits and it is only that one little piece standing in the way.  

I hope I've answered some burning questions for anyone who has been wondering if these attachments could be used on a 237.  At least now I know!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stretch Stitching on Singer Slant-O-Matic

In response to some buzz on a VSSM group, I dug out my stretch stitching equipment for my 401 and tested it out.  I don't sew stretch knits very often, but I am prepared!

The fabric I used for the experiment was this.  Slinky and drapey, and with a substantial two-way stretch (about 50%.)

The machine I used was my 401, of course.

And the stretch stitching "equipment" is this:

Now, I don't have this cute little plastic case for mine, I bought the foot and cam separately.  If you're looking for the same thing, it is the #22 cam (which looks like an inverted #8) and an overedge foot.  That's all it is!  (This same combo is great for finishing seams with a real overedge stitch that looks almost like serging.)

I used a Schmetz stretch needle and Guttermann 100% polyester thread.  And here are the results.  This stitched perfectly, no skipped stitches, no puckering, and I can stretch the seam without breaking any stitches.

This is how the stitch looks

Here is the front side

So there you go!  Some more gadgets to find for your Singer Slant-O-Matic!

Now for hemming that stretchy knit.  My new best friend is Wonder Tape.  You don't want to try to press up or pin up this hem, but of course you want it to stay in place without shifting.  So you use this helpful product.

Tape it down with the bottom edge where you want your hem to be.

 Then you peel the paper backing off

and turn up your hem and press it into place

Now stitch with a twin needle and very light upper tension.  For best results, use a backing like tear-away or wash-away stabilizer, or even tissue paper like I'm using here.

I did NOT have a stretch twin needle, just a universal.  Results might be even better with a stretch needle, though.  Anyway, between the Wonder Tape and the paper backing, there was no shifting or puckering of the fabric.

PS... Yours Truly just remembered that the 401 takes two separate needles, so if you don't have a stretch twin needle you can use two stretch needles in there instead.  Duh!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Fun with Singer Bias Cutter and Bias Binder

Here are a couple of really cool gadgets from the Singer Tool Box.  Top is the bias binder, and below its the bias gauge cutter.

Now imagine it is 1955, and we are going to cut and apply a bias edging.  First we have to cut the bias strips 15/16" to fit the binder attachment and we do it with this little device.

Before I go any further - Yes, I know there is a method where you can cut continuous bias strips after marking cutting lines and making a couple of seams in a bias cut piece of fabric.  I do that myself sometimes.  But for the fun of it, let's just assume we only need a short bias strip so we're going to cut and seam it the old-fashioned way.

First I'll mark off my first bias line, and cut it.

(And yes, I "cheated" and used the rotary cutter for the first line.)

Now I don't have to mark off any more lines to get perfectly even strips.  I just attach this gizmo to the tip of my scissors and cut.

That little square next to the B is where you set the gauge for how wide you want your strips to be.
F = facing,  B = binding, C = cording.  I have it on B to get the required 15/16" inch strips that work in the binding attachment.

You attach it to the tip of your scissors as shown above, then you insert the edge of the fabric in the slot and start cutting - the strips come out perfect!

(If you have a good eye, you'll see I had the gauge set a tad past the B so my strip is a full inch wide. Oops!)

To seam, line up your strips this way.  Then press the seam open and cut off the little points.

So now you put your strip into the largest slot on your bias binder, then attach it to the machine. (It is easier to do it that way.) Feed the edge of your fabric into the slot between folds and sew.

The binding attachment folds and sews it on in one step!

How cool is that?