Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Guide to Some of the Most Popular Vintage Singer Sewing Machines - PART I, The Classic Blacks

This is my analysis of a handful of today's most sought after mid-century Singer models.  It is not a comprehensive list, there are many that aren't included here.  I am covering only the ones I have actually owned and sewn on myself - the exception being the 222, which I have never actually even seen! - therefore, the Pros and Cons are my personal opinion. (Also, some machines have more versions than what I show here.)

First I thought it might be helpful to explain some of the fundamental differences among these sewing machines. They break down as follows:

  • Two different shank types: low and slant
  • Three different bobbin types: Class 15, Class 66, Class 221
  • Three different hook configurations - which is a combination of hook type and orientation

Now we'll start with what I call the "Classic Blacks."  Here are three of the most popular models.

Singer 15-91

Singer 201-2

Singer 221

This brings us to the last of the Classic Blacks, and a completely unique machine.  To me, the 301 is the pinnacle of Singer machines. It ushered in a new era of completely re-engineered slant shank machines - this machine was revolutionary! - and at the same time the black model was the very last of the beautiful black machines with gold decals. This was a new era, and Singer wanted to modernize the look; the black machines were old school.  Therefore the 301 had the black & gold version (for those who still liked the traditional style) and two more color schemes in beige tones to update the look.  To this day it remains unique because it was the only machine that could be both a cabinet AND a portable model.  It has the vertical rotary hook like a Featherweight, and shares it's 221 bobbin, but the slant shanks that followed (known as the Slant-O-Matics) were horizontal rotaries with a Class 66 bobbin.  The 301 is truly one of a kind; it is the bridge between the models above (and many, many more of that era) and the ones that followed.  No machine ever made, however, could surpass it.  Dare I say it is perfect?

Singer 301

The beige and the LBOW (light beige/oyster white) 301s segued into the Slant-O-Matic color scheme...

NEXT..... Part II, the Slant-O-Matics  (Singer 400/500 Series)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Scenes From a Sewing Room

I think I should sub-title this post, "I Am So Bored!"  (Stuck inside on the coldest day in about 20 years and nothing much to do.)

 This is the overview of my "Happy Place."  It is half of the upstairs bonus room in my house.  And yes, it is always neat as a pin except when I'm in the middle of a big project, then it's "anything goes."

The current line up.  This is subject to change without notice, but I'm satisfied with it for now.  The right is a FW card table, but I have my newest 301 sitting there now.  This spot is where I play with whatever machine I'm trying out at the moment.  (The FW gets to come out and play once in a while.)

See, there's the FW in it's case beside the 401.  The other case (in the chevron cover) is a battered old FW case that holds my spare parts.

Even though my sewing room is strictly vintage, I do have a serger.  But it is an old 1980s model (that's vintage, right?) and it's sitting on a Singer cabinet.  The curtains were made from an old sheet I found at the thrift store.

My work table is right in the center of the room.  The bins underneath hold smaller fabric remnants, color-coded and sorted into individual ziploc bags.  When I want to do a small project, I can just grab and go.

I have a lot of stuff, but I try to keep it under control.  I like pretty sewing baskets, and pick those up at yard sales, too.  The coolest stuff comes in those old baskets!

This is a cute little cabinet I bought at a yard sale for a couple of bucks.  Works perfectly for sewing supplies.

Singer memorabilia tucked in here and there...

So...if I just had a project to work on, I wouldn't be whiling my day away just looking at all this stuff.  Guess it's time to make a cup of tea and do a little online fabric shopping so I can get to work.  And figure out some little projects to make from my stash in the meantime.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Treadling into New Territory with a Singer 15-90

Well here's something I had never planned to do!

A couple of years ago, an elderly neighbor lady gave me this Singer treadle cabinet because she knew I liked "old" Singers.  I thought it was a cool piece of furniture and I put it in my entrance hall and plopped a bowl of seashells and a vase of flowers on top.  There it has stood ever since.

Just sitting there doing nothing

Now, I'm in a period where I have a lot of downtime and start looking around for stimulating, but ultimately useless little projects to keep me occupied.  I spied this table, and remembered that I had gifted a relative with a 15-90 in a carrying case several years ago.  Since I had more recently given her a newer model machine in a cabinet, I figured maybe she'd be willing to give me this one back - and she did.  (The 15-90 is identical to a 15-91 except that it has an external motor with a belt therefore can be treadled.)

Leather sewing machine treadle belt, $6.99 on Amazon

I bought a new belt on Amazon, and was surprised how cheap and easy to find it was!

Putting the machine into the cabinet was a snap, although I did discover that the hinge type is slight different than the ones I'm used to. It has two holes which screw each hinge into the cabinet instead of one.  I ordered a set of hinges on eBay.

Treadle cabinet hinges, $12.99 on eBay

Not bad, I've spent $20 and I've got everything I need

Problem is, when I tried to work the treadle all I got was a screeching sound and the wheel would barely move.  I could maybe get it to spin around once and then it would get caught up again.  I oiled and inspected all the moving parts and finally saw that the skirt guard was too close to the wheel.  It was rubbing against it and impeding the movement.

Well, now, I'll just pull it away a little bit and see if that helps. YES, it does!  Now the wheel is moving freely.  But when I let go, it leaned on the wheel again, and stopped it.  Hmmm....if I can just pull it out a little, maybe I can "bend" it into place.

Okay, so maybe everyone else realizes cast iron is brittle, and it doesn't bend.  I guess I kind of knew that too, but I was hoping it would bend just a little.  Well, no, it didn't, it completely snapped off right in my hand.  I mean I ripped that sucker right off the base!

My husband helpfully told me I could weld it back on.  (Or not.)  This was supposed to be a simple, inexpensive project, after all, and neither one of us knows how to weld let alone weld cast iron.

So, sadly, I resorted to this:

No, you're not seeing things, that is duct tape on the left.  On the right I taped over the duct tape with black electrical tape just so it would blend in. 

But... and here's the "good" thing... it works perfectly!  Once I got that guard under control (and boy, did I ever show it who's boss!) the wheel spins smoothly and perfectly.  The 15-90 is a nice machine to begin with, so I'm lucky to have that advantage.  

Now, I'm waiting for someone to comment and tell me how there is an easy way to adjust the position of the guard and if I had just done a simple X-Y-Z, I could have repositioned it without ripping it off.  And I would really be glad to hear those comments, although I might cry when I realize how easily I could have have avoided tearing up my beautiful treadle base!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Singer 301 Family is Complete - LBOW

A few years ago I picked up a Singer 301-1 black short bed.  It quickly became my favorite machine, and now lives in a beautiful #42 cabinet.  That's all I could ever want. Except...

I then came across a 301-2 beige long bed in a case for a good price.  That would round out my collection (one of each color, one of each style.)  Except...

There was one more color I didn't have, which is the Light Beige Oyster White (LBOW.)  I was okay if I never got one, but when I saw one being offered at an Estate Sale, I couldn't resist the siren song.

I wanted to be the first one in line, so I got there an hour early and waited in the pouring rain.  Good thing I did because someone right behind me was after it too.  It was only $40 because it didn't work.

However, I disagree.  It absolutely does work!

Here it is stitching at very slow to very high speeds.

And it makes a perfect stitch

But it wasn't working - that is the wheel wouldn't turn - when I bought it, and all the better to my advantage.  However, I knew this:  as long as the bobbin case was in there (and it was) it was worth $40 because the bobbin case alone is worth more than that.  I was also pretty sure I could get it running anyway.  I've done it before, after all.  But if I couldn't get it working, then I would part it out and come out ahead, so win/win.

So here, just as I suspected, was the problem.  First of all, YUCK.  
Gobs of lint that hadn't been cleaned out in years.

But even worse, there was a thread wrapped around the hook

It took a while, but I finally got it free.  It was wrapped up in there pretty tight.

So maybe a messy hour of my time, and I got a machine that had been written off as not working right back into operation.  It was also bone dry and needed some oiling and lubing.  It still sounds a little hard, but it runs fast and the stitch is perfect like any 301.  (Hopefully after running and oiling it a little more, it will settle down.)

             I'll be selling one of them soon, but for now it's kind of cool to have the whole set.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Singer 301 - Sharing the Love

I paid "too much" on eBay for this beautiful, original full-color brochure.  Since I spent so much on it, I figure I should share the love.  💕

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Singer Monogrammer - the "other" one

I've raved about my Singer Deluxe Monogrammer, and honestly I still think it is about the coolest gadget I have.  I will find ANY excuse to use it.  (Sorry family and friends, you know you'll get something monogrammed from me!)

This is the other one - the one that makes tiny little letters suitable for cuffs or collars or even a dainty little hanky.

These are pretty cheap on eBay - about $20 - and they work on all slant shank Singers.  Keep in mind though, that you need a zigzag machine to make the satin stitch (so the 301 and 404 won't work.)  You also need a special feed cover plate even though the Slant-O-Matics have an elevated throat plate system to bypass the feed dogs. Using the elevated throat plate just doesn't work for this, I tried it.

According to the instruction booklet this should be included so if you're buying one from eBay make sure it is in there. Mine was missing, and they are almost impossible to find one on it's own.  Fortunately I, being blessed by the vintage Singer gods, did find one in the accessory box of a 503 at an Estate Sale. 
Simanco part #161825

If you've ever used a Singer automatic buttonholer, then this will be somewhat familiar.  It attaches to the machine the same way, and you open it and insert cams in a similar way as well.

There is a placement guide with a needle hole for each letter so you will know exactly where to begin to get your letter properly positioned (I'm not showing that step.)

Now you just set your stitch width to 2-1/2 for best results, and away you go.

This makes a super cute little monogram that would look really posh on a men's shirt collar or a dainty hanky for your grandma.  (Just be sure to use a wash away or tear away stabilizer if you're monogramming a hanky)