Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch

To keep all my old sewing machines limber, I like to take them off the shelf occasionally and use them on a project.  I really should tag each machine to tell me when was the last time it was oiled and used but I’m just too lazy.  Anyway, I pulled this Rocketeer off the shelf, oiled it and tested the stitches.  I have no idea how long it had been sitting unused, maybe years.

Straight stitch was fine

but wide zig zag was not. 

I narrowed the stitch width and it got a wee bit better, but still not in the acceptable range.

My first thought was that the needle bar had been shoved up in its clamp by hitting a button or zipper but the marks on the needle bar were in the correct position so I knew that was not the cause.

The next thought was hook timing.  The point of the hook should pass just above the eye of the needle when the lower timing mark on the needle bar is at the needlebar bushing.  It was, so that was not the issue.

When I was watching the hook pass by the needle, I noticed that there seemed to be a more-than-usual separation between the needle and the hook point.  The service manual says that distance should be .018 inches but I measured it at .032 inches – almost twice what it should be.

To be sure that the needlebar was not bent, I installed a size 18 needle and a straight stitch needleplate and checked where the needle passed through the hole in the needleplate.  It looked just like the drawing in the service manual, so the needlebar was not bent.

The next step was to move the hook closer to the needle.  The service manual says to loosen the two setscrews indicated by "O"

And move the entire hook saddle.  It was easy enough, after loosening the two screws, the hook saddle swivels around the shaft it is mounted on and the hook point can be moved closer to or farther from the needle.  I moved the hook as close to the needle as possible without hitting it and tightened the screws.

I now still have good straight stitch and the narrow zig zag is as it should be.

I am not getting the full width zig zag that the machine is capable of, but that is a different problem that I will tackle later.


Saturday, January 09, 2016

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

You bought a new foot control and want to connect it to your current cord; you bought a new cord and need to connect it to your current foot control; you bought a new cord and foot control and they came to you as separate pieces.  The following should help you get that sewing machine running.
I used a vintage Necchi foot control in my example, but you should be able to decode your foot control, once you get it opened up.

Not all vintage foot controls look the same, but all 2-wire controls operate essentially the same – electrical current flows into the control; a resistance of some sort (carbon pile, resistance wire, etc) reduces the size of that current and sends it out to the motor.

1.  Disconnect all electrical power before starting to avoid the possibility of shock or fire!!!
2. Tip the foot control over and locate the screws holding on the bottom cover. 

Many vintage Asian-made foot controls have covers that just slide off, rather than being screwed on.  I won’t discuss modern controllers because there are YouTube videos covering them.  Remove the screws or slide off the bottom cover.  Now is the time to look at any cushions surrounding the screws and obtain replacements for missing or deteriorated cushions.
3. If there is an insulation plate, remove it and set aside.  Not all foot controls have them.

WARNING:  Some controllers contain a capacitor to filter out radio noise.  They usually look like small tin cans.  Capacitors can store electricity, so do not touch the connection points to avoid shock.

4. At this point, look around for pieces that might fall out and get lost.  This controller has a spring that is not attached in any way, some button controllers have an actuating button that can fall out.  Remove any loose pieces, noting where they go so you can get them back in the right position.

5. You are now ready to disconnect the old cord, if there is one.  Just unscrew the two screws and lift the wires off.

Preparing the New Cord

6. If the cord you are installing has terminals installed, skip to step 12.
7. Since you’re still here, your cord does not have terminals installed.

  Terminals are available at Radio Shack and many hardware and home stores.  I got mine at Harbor Freight and Lowe’s.  Terminal sizes are denoted by the color of the insulation sleeve.  For the size wire used by sewing machines, pink or red insulation sleeve is appropriate.
8. Strip about ½” of insulation from the wire ends.

9. Insert the end of the wire into the terminal so that the wire insulation is well inside the terminal’s insulation sleeve and the stripped end of the wire peeks out beyond the end of the insulation sleeve.

10. You can crimp the terminal with ordinary pliers, but a better result will be achieved with wire crimping pliers, like these with the yellow handle.

11. Crimp the terminal close to the end of the insulation sleeve that covers the stripped wire end.  You want the terminal to connect to the stripped wire, not the insulation.

Installing the Cord

12. Installation is the reverse of removal.  If you have space inside the controller, tie a knot in the wires to prevent them from sliding out through the exit hole.  Connect the two wires to the two terminals.  It makes no difference which wire goes to each terminal, a resistor can’t tell the difference which way current is flowing.

13. Route the wires so that they do not interfere with any moving parts and out through the exit hole, slot, or whatever is there.
14. Replace any loose parts you removed in step 4.
15. Replace the insulating pad, if your controller has one.
16. Replace the bottom cover.
17. Connect to your sewing machine and Sew!


Wednesday, January 06, 2016


We had to go to LaPlata, Maryland yesterday and our appointment was just around the corner from Material Girls Quilt Shop, so Kathie insisted we stop by for a "quick look".  It has been a while since I have visited that store, so while Kathie was petting fabric, I wandered around looking for sewing machines.  The shop has expanded since I was last there and they have taken over a second storefront completely dedicated to Bernina sewing machines.  Now, I do not sew enough to justify the price of a Bernina, but it's still fun to see them.  As I walked into the showroom area, I immediately spotted a vintage machine in the front corner.

It was the first Bernina 117 I have ever seen in person, and this one is in pristine condition!  I have seen them on eBay and always thought they looked cool, but at the time, an average specimen was selling for $400-$600, so I passed.  I must have stood there ten minutes, just looking at the paint, decals, and chrome plate.

As I turned around to go back into the fabric section, I spotted a lineup of Berninas on a high shelf

It's like a graphic timeline of Berninas from the 1950s to 1980s(?)  The place is like a mini-museum of Berninas and made me not mind stopping for a short time.

Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Store

Friday, December 04, 2015

Adjustable Zipper Foot

Browsing through some orphan boxes of accessories, I found a presser foot I had never seen before.  It is an adjustable zipper foot but it is different.  All my other zipper feet have one toe

This one has two toes with a slot in the middle between the toes.

It can sew on the left side

or on the right side

or straight stitch in between the toes. 

And you don't have to change the foot to sew zippers, piping, or anything else you would use a zipper foot for - just loosen the thumbscrew in the back and slide the foot to the desired position.  I can't believe that, with all my years of collecting sewing machines, I have never before seen a foot quite like this.

This provides a much better product when straight stitching because the foot spans both rows of feed dog, not only one row.  Fabric should feed straighter and more evenly with twice the feed dog contact.

I have been using this foot on my Anker RZ for all the sewing I do on that machine except zig zag. The only foot I have is high shank and the only high shank machine I have out and set up for sewing is the Anker so it was a natural pairing.

Since I like the foot so much, I searched for a source so I could add them to the inventory of my Etsy shop.  I have found them in high shank, low shank, and Singer slant shank. 

Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Shop

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

Last week, a lady brought her Babylock Pro-Line serger by for a cleaning and to have the knives replaced. 

The machine had been sitting idle for some time and had gotten stiff, so I had to go fairly deep into it to restore lubrication to all the moving parts and had to resort to YouTube for instructions on adjusting the new knives because I had never replaced knives before.

That got me in the mood to tackle one of my three seldom-used sergers to see if it was still in working condition.  I made the choice which one to work on by turning the balance wheels.  The Brother and the Babylock both turned freely

but the Pfaff was frozen solid - I couldn't turn the wheel at all!

I picked up this serger fairly cheap because it had significant rust.  You can't see much of the rust in these photos because (a) I have cleaned some off and (b) the really serious rust is inside where you can't see it.

 I wish I had taken photos when I had all the covers off but I got too impatient to see if it was fixed to go get the camera and take pics.  Threading a serger is difficult enough that I was not going to un-thread just for a photo op.

The biggest problem (after oiling and freeing up the mechanism) was that the lower looper timing was way off.  All I got was a series of parallel needle holes on the fabric with no interlocking thread at all.  Fortunately, I had a service manual for the Hobbylock 794 which was close enough to provide all the necessary adjustments and clearances.  The serger now works the way it should, even if it is not the prettiest one I own.

Even though I rarely use a serger, I felt this effort was worthwhile because I learned a lot about how one works.  Before this, I thought there was a little magic box inside the case that made all the fancy stitches happen - now I know it is just a bunch of levers and bellcranks and it no longer mystifies me.

Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Store

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kenmore 385.1684180

Even though it has the slide plate that turns under the seam allowance, I really like my 385.17881 Kenmore because it is so smooth and quiet. 

I always consider those traits to be an indicator of the quality of the machine.  Unfortunately, when I got it, the stitch length dial was very difficult to turn and I tried to loosen things up with a heat gun, melting some teeth on the plastic gear behind the stitch length dial.  I was able to reposition the gear so that the missing teeth were  not where they would affect stitch length selection, but the dial still turns very hard and I only have stitch lengths of 10-12.  I have been looking for a replacement for that machine, hoping to find the exact model needing work so I could cannibalize parts from my current machine to rehab the new one.

I still haven't found the exact model replacement, but I saw this 385.1684180 on an online auction.

 The style lines are very similar to the 385.17881 and it has the same rotating hook and drop-in bobbin, so I bid on it, hoping it would be as smooth and quiet as the 385.17881.

When I received the 385.1684180, I saw that it appears to have been well-used, but not abused.  The light bulb was burned out and the plastic bushings that hold in both spool pins are broken.  Sears Parts Direct had the bushings in stock and they are on the way to me.  The bobbin area was very clean, making me think the machine had been well cared for, but when I opened the bottom covers, a lint ball the size of a plum fell out!  It had been cleaned from above, but never went in for a professional servicing.  There was also a lot of gummy substance on many of the surfaces underneath, including the hook gear.  I tried to clean it off with mineral oil, alcohol, and several other substances but scraping it off seemed to be the only way to remove it.

Those issues  were easy to fix but one was more difficult - it would not stitch in reverse.  Pressing the reverse button had no effect, it just kept going forward.  Tracing out the linkage from the Reverse button, I found that there are two springs and a collar that slides along the hook shaft. 

When the collar is to the right, the machine sews forward.  When the collar slides to the left, the feed dog travel is altered so the fabric feeds in reverse. 

Here's how it works:
    The spring near the Reverse button (not shown in these photos) is stronger than the spring down by the collar (in yellow circle).
    When the Reverse button is pressed, the weaker spring is allowed to slide the collar (in the red circle) to the left for Reverse.
    When the Reverse button is released, the stronger spring pulls the rod (in blue) and overrides the weaker spring and slides the collar to the right for forward sewing.

  I could feel that the collar was not moving freely and spent two days trying to free it up.  After lubing and exercising the collar and hook shaft for hours with no results, I accidentally knocked the arm from the weaker spring out of its track and found that the collar itself was actually free-moving, it was the arm from the weaker spring to the collar that was binding.  I had oiled the pivot point of that arm in the very beginning but that was not enough.  I removed the arm and spring, cleaned everything well and re-lubricated.  The Reverse button now works as advertised and the machine sews backward as well as forward.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Singer 20U33

  I have an industrial 20U33 that I like to sew on.  It is smooth, strong, and quiet and makes a perfect stitch.  It also has a 9mm zig zag, which I rarely take advantage of but I know it's there if I need a wide zig zag.
I have had it mounted in a power stand from a Singer 95-10 that went away years ago.

  I like the table because of its solid wood top that I intend to refinish some day and the flip-up leaf that extends the sewing surface.  Problem is, the ancient clutch motor has four wires protruding from it and I can find no documentation how to hook up the wires to make the motor operational.

  To substitute for the missing clutch motor, I installed my largest family machine motor - a 1.3 amp model from a White.

  The treadle did not allow the foot control to be positioned in a comfortable location so I wedged it under the far end of the treadle and depress the treadle to actuate the speed control, just like I would if the clutch motor were working.

  This setup allowed me to sew but there was no light.  I tried a stick-on LED light but it did not provide adequate illumination in the proper direction. 

  A tabletop Ott Lite provided illumination but I was constantly knocking it over.
To the rescue was a Singer 252

with a broken plastic gear in the upper section.

   I was able to find a replacement gear but see no way to replace it without removing the main shaft - a task I do not wish to undertake - so it is now a parts donor. 

  The first donation was the foot control, motor and attached light.  They fit perfectly on the 20U33 and I now have a machine I like to use with enough light to see what I'm doing.