Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sometimes You Gotta Let Go!

This week, I made the mistake of stating on a sewing machine collectors' forum that I plan to take a vanload of sewing machines to the landfill. From the firestorm that ensued, you would have thought that I am sending a dozen new Rolls Royces to the crusher! My inbox was flooded with people wanting me to use my time and packing materials to package these old machine carcasses and ship to them one at a time. Others called me an idiot for not trying to sell them, without even knowing what I have. All this reminded me of something I wrote well about 10 years ago. I dredged it up and find that I have Nostradamus tendencies, because here it is with absolutely no changes from the original, which I wrote when I was in Phase 3. I am currently in Phase 7:

The Phases of Sewing Machine Collecting

Phase 1: Looking for a first sewing machine or a backup for your plastic computerized machine that's always in the shop, you find an old Singer 66 or 99 minus the slide plate at Value Village. Although you have little or no interest in old sewing machines, it will be okay as a backup machine. If you don't like it, you can give to a family member (daughter) when she voices an interest in learning to sew and if you can't get it sewing, you can always use it as a decoration in your sewing room.

Phase 2: After cleaning, oiling, adjusting, and testing your find, you learn that it's an enjoyable activity and relatively easy, and you fear that your daughter may actually want it. You start looking for another machine for her so you can keep the first one. You begin going to local auctions, visiting every local thrift shop weekly and spending your lunch hour cruising ebay.

Phase 3: Friends, neighbors, and co-workers now know you collect sewing machines because that's all you talk about. They start dumping their non-working machines on you that have been sitting in the damp basement for 20 years. In your search for SM info, you find and sign up onto dozens of sewing machine forums. You spend more time reading and keeping up with the digests then you do working on the SM's. You sell your plastic computerized machine on the Sewing Rummage for $200 more than you paid for it and swear to never again sew on a machine made after 1955. You have wild dreams of selling your collection to some museum and retiring in luxury.

Phase 4: As you find more and more sources, you begin acquiring them faster than you can fix them up. You vow to limit the collection to one era and one manufacturer and pass by all others. You keep that vow religiously until the next time you visit the Goodwill store and see a neglected (fill in any manufacturer's name here) sitting in the corner on half-price day.

Phase 5: You have so many machines that you start donating or parting out the ugly ducklings in your growing collection (because no one wants to even pay shipping on them). Straight stitch machines are no longer a challenge and you pass them by in favor of more complicated specimens. Since few of those were made before 1955, you raise your manufacturing cutoff date to 1970.

Phase 6: You stop actively looking for more machines as you realize that you have more than you can fix up and sew on for the rest of your life. You settle down to fixing up the nicest few machines in your stable and sewing on them occasionally.

Phase 7: You tire of collecting and begin trying to dispose of your space-hogging old sewing machines, but you find that there is no market for them. Your fantasy of retiring on the proceeds of your collection goes up in smoke. You donate more to charities and haul some of the stripped carcasses to the dump.

Phase 8: You pare down to just three vintage machines you can't bear to part with - a Featherweight and two others. You are now sewing more and more but long for stretch stitches and features that the older machines can't provide.

Phase 9: You go to the local Sew & Vac and buy a brand new $3000 plastic computerized machine so you can enjoy one-step buttonholes, three alphabets, and 9mm zig zag.

50 comments:

Tammy said...

Oh Ed, that is priceless! What an entertaining read.

There is something magical about vintage sewing machines. It is so satisfying to bring home a neglected machine, clean it up and have it sewing smoothly.

By the way my Necchi Lelia is sewing beautiful precise straight and zig zag stitches in three different needle positions. Lelia is a favourite in my collection.

Next time you want to retire a van load of machines to the dump, don't tell anyone, just sneak it out there under the cover of darkness!

What are you sewing these days?

OldRound said...

You need some youngish, pretty, hipster sewer to extoll the virtues of each sewing machine (stealthly, one by one), then list on ebay, then you can pay someone else to package up and mail machine and then you can retire and enjoy the proceeds. : )

Ed Lamoureux said...

I certainly should consider that when time comes to pare down the good pieces but the ones I'm getting rid of now are parts machines that have been harvested, some with cosmetic issues so major that no one would give them a second glance, and machines that are so common they would not sell for enough to pay for packaging materials. If I don't have recycle packing materials on hand and have to buy new, it costs me about $15 to package a machine. It takes an hour, and more time (and gas) to haul it to the UPS pickup point. I figure if I don't realize $25 more than my cost of a machine, I'm losing money. - Ed

Laurie said...

This was a clever essay. I'm in phase 1, nearing phase 2. I kinda thought this might happen. LOL

Laurie said...

Clever essay. I'm in phasing 1, nearing phase 2. Better get a bigger garage. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Good dispatch and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you seeking your information.

Walter said...

Hi Ed, Thanks for the great info! My wife and I own 17 machines and are always looking for models we don't own. We are looking for copies of the 301 and 201 adjusters manuals. The 401 adjusters manual you posted was invaluable in resurrecting our 401. If you could steer us toward the requested info we will be eternally grateful. seniorasi@gmail.com

Jonathan said...

I loved the post!

I'm in Phase 6. I'm more interested in sewing than cleaning and oiling machines. But I'm not ready to part with the machines I haven't used yet.

How many machines do you have?

JustGail said...

Good post Ed! Not sure what stage I'm at, I think somewhere between 1 & 2. I do look at machines at garage sales & re-sale shops, but have restrained myself from purchasing, although I do regret not getting one, more for the cabinet though. Mostly I watch for attachments for the machines I do have already.

As far as taking a bunch of machines which have been stripped of parts or are not repairable, or common, to the landfill, the only thing that comes to my mind is if the metal bits are recyclable. But then, I don't imagine you'd want to take them apart if they were, I wouldn't. Is there a curious 6-9 year old around that likes to take stuff apart?

As far as those saying "before you know what you have", my guess is they don't read your blog or haven't been on the sewing machine forum for long? Besides, the more of these machines that end up in the landfill, the more "valuable" the remaining ones become. Like my dad says, "if it weren't for people like me throwing stuff out, all that stuff in antique stores wouldn't be worth diddly".

Enjoy the cleanout!

JennyG said...

Enjoyable read Ed....For many people in the vintage sewing machine realm, these old machines aren't "things" they are sacred cows. You could sell your eldset child for a profit and send your mother to the landfil...but don't you DARE do either of those things with a sewing machine! LOL!

marie said...

Ed, I loved the humorous account of your SM journey. For me it could serve as a cautionary tale. (I hope I don't forget) Twenty-five years ago I bought what was for me, "the machine of a lifetime". It is a New Home Memory Craft 6000. I loved this machine, with so many easy to use features, and I used it quite a lot, at first. After a spinal cord injury and the subsequent confused digital sensation, I couldn't bear to handle fabrics. My machine was virtually unused for about 20 years. Recently my daughter who lives some distance from me, wanted to borrow it for her budding entreprenurial crafting scheme. I couldn't bear to let it out the door, fearing it would suffer while away from my watchful eye. That is is why I began collecting SM's in varying states of usefullness and repair. Some Sewing machimes had parts missing and lacked power and foot controls. I kept searching for the best machine to suit my daughter's purpose, and my modest budget. Now I must attempt moderation so that I do not become addicted to SM collecting. I had for some years entertained and educated my neighborhood kids with all manners of projects and events, so I thought I would start a beginners sewing class with all the machines I have collected. That is, if I get them up and running. I'm sure I will get most running but sure could use some manuals so I know where to oil, adjust tensions, etc. It is curious to me that one can find a manual on the internet for just about anything made and download it for free, but there are few freebies for sewing machines. When doing an internet search, you are directed to sites that say the manuals are "free" but most likely the free manuals are not going to be for the machine you have.

Peter said...

This is funny; I fear I'm still at an early stage with my nine vintage models.

Just wrote this piece, "Top 10 reasons to buy a vintage sewing machine." Hope you enjoy it!

http://malepatternboldness.blogspot.com/2010/03/top-10-reasons-to-buy-vintage-sewing.html

xobooks said...

Hi Ed,

I have read all of your posts and a thousand others elsewhere trying to learn and understand my needs. I have never sewn except maybe to put a button back on a shirt and should have paid attention to girlfriends that did because now I do. I am an avid outdoorsman and always find that all my gear needs adjusting, resizing, repairing, customizing and always thought I could do it myself by sewing rather than glue, duct tape and rivets.

I was looking at an old singer 15-91 or 15-125 because from what I have read they seem to be able to handle the materials I want to sew but finding one in good shape seems to be very expensive and I know there are a lot of accessories I will need to do this. It would probably be cheaper to bring it to a local tailor but I'm a doityourselfer and want to learn and tackle it myself.

Can you suggest other sewing machines to consider? I would buy on ebay but don't know enough so sticking to ebay and people that deal with sewing stuff only. Also, if you know anyone that is selling something that would suit my needs please send them to me.

Thanks...David

Cindy said...

Hi there,
I'm new to your blog and have enjoyed reading about Nicchi machines. I just bought a Supernova with all the extra parts. However while I was oiling and cleaning it I noticed that a roll of foil about 3/4 inch wide had come out and unrolled. I can not get it rolled up and back into its little hole. On top of that the machine that did work, doesn't now. Oops! Can I replace this part with a more modern thingie? I don't know what this roll of foil is but it is not something that is of modern make. Guess I should have not opened the bottom of the machine to clean and oil it.... Any suggestions> Or dose any one have any parts or part machines they want to sell?
Cindy

Ed Lamoureux said...

I have been inside a lot of Necchis and have never seen a part like you describe, If you could email me some photos of the foil cylinder and the place it came from, perhaps I could make a guess. - Ed

studiolupholstery@gmail.com

Ed Lamoureux said...

David,

A good option for a home machine to do heavy sewing is a Japanese model from around the 1960's. They are cheap, strong, and usually of good quality. Kenmores and other store brand machines from that era (Penncrest, Signature, Wizard) are not particularly in favor and fit that bill. So do Brothers. You should be able to find a good one in the $10-$35 range. I prefer the ones where the bobbin loads from the end of the machine, rather than the ones that load between the operator and the needle. - Ed

knowspics said...

Thanks Ed,

oh ohhh, I already bought one and spent more than that. I bought a singer 201K. I heard it was a workhorse and could sew through just about anything. Ebay lister had good feedback, and the listing said it was in very good shape with test stitches shown. I am sure I am going to rewire it and take it apart and put it back together again. That is my unfortunate nature. Thanks though.

Ed Lamoureux said...

All is not lost, the 201 will hold its value better than many other machines. When you're finished with it, if you keep it in good condition, you might even end up selling it for more than you paid! - Ed

Karen said...

Too funny -- squarely in phase 2, but at least my 66 and 99 have their slide plates! Karen

Laura said...

Hello,

I came across your blog while searching for information online about a sewing machine. A lady I work with gave me a pink Montgomery Ward HappyLite sewing machine, with a model number of UHT J1837. It says made in Taiwan. It belonged to her husband's first wife, so she doesn't have any information on it. I'm trying to figure out how old it is, where I can get a manual, and if it should have a foot pedal (there isn't one with it). My Internet searches didn't find any information. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

Sarah said...

Hi, so completely off topic, but on an older post you said that you have a 301 service manual pdf. I didn't know how else to ask you so a comment it is. Would you be willing to share?

Ed Lamoureux said...

Certainly but it's a bit tough without an email address. You can contact me at StudioLUpholstery@gmail.com - Ed

AndreaDomingas said...

Hi Ed!
LOL! It is the first time I am here and I am yet having fun with this great post! I guess I am on fase 2, but jumping to 7. I think I do not have space enough to grow my collection and I want to have time to sew and enjoy the machines I have. The post was a good advise for me. Thanks!

Kathleen said...

I simply loved your essay. I do tend to get a bit silly when I see an old machine household or office. Reading your blog probably saved me 22 years, as many thousands of dollars and a lot of space.

Thank you, and I will not be collecting sewing machines. I will always admire the older stronger designs, but I must keep a rein on my impulses.

Yarnhog said...

LMAO! Too funny! I am in stage 2 (or is it 3?), which is how I ended up here, trying to identify that $25 Singer on craigslist, just five minutes from here...

Jacqui's Quilts said...

LOVED this post! I discovered your blog while looking for info on the 15-125. Great essay. We moved a year ago and stripped useable parts off 85 machines and called the local scrap dealer to come and pick up the rest. I'm bookmarking your blog!

Apartment 6A said...

I haven't read all the comments, but ignore anyone who criticizes you for hauling an old sewing machine to the dump. As much as I am an advocate for recycling, reusing, and "saving the planet," I recognize that there are some instances in which you just have to get that crap out of your home and out of your life pronto and somehow only the sense of freedom that standing and watching all of that stuff you once treasured become a part of a towering pile of rubbish will free you of the burden and the mantra "what the heck was I thinking" that screams through your mind. Feel free to e-mail this dumpster diva if you'd like some books, records, shelf pins, polyester '70s shirts, drawer pulls, kitchen utensils, a wine cooler with no racks, bad artwork, broken furniture parts or miscellaneous other trash. Abilify abilified my compulsive hordeing for far too long and now this stuff has got to go or else it's going to the dump! P.S. As some items are just too precious to part with, I'll just warn you, don't even try to convince me to get rid of The Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, a book on the History of the Aloha Shirt or holographic Jesus and the Last Supper. P.P.S Don't try to fix computerized Husqvarna's by yourself. If you do, they might still be in pieces 3 years later and you might have a featherweight, a 1928 Singer in the table, a Necchi 535FA (that works perfectly), a Husqvarna 1+, and a Janome serger just in case one of your other machines breaks! All because you fear the guys at the sewing machine repair shop will laugh and tell you you shouldn't have tried that at home.

Miss Madeline said...

Hi there,

Do you know how to fix a needle bar on singer 306k that has come apart?
the [art that holds the needle has fallen apart and im unsure of how to put it back together as there is a little piece that looks like it sits inside... i cant find anything on the net...

please help ??? urgently...

Aunt Robin said...

dont know what is funnier...your blog or the responses... I collect SMs...know that they will not ever be valued by others...have a back up plan for thinning...am looking for one more machine...have lots of offers of freebys out there...lots of ones I ought to be fixing and a local museum where I can clean, oil and polish to my hearts content without adding to my own herd...accept I asked them to send people to me who are offering the machines they no longer are accepting..:-0...guess I am in a bad way....robin

Jonathan said...

Ed,
I LOVE my vintage machines! I haven't started getting rid of any. So, I'm probably still in phase 6. But recently I saw a really cool typeface monogrammed on a dog toy and started looking into machines that'll do alphabets - lol.

I decided a computerized machine bought sole for the monograming feature was a huge waste of money. So I'm going to try my hand at monograming manually instead.

What I really want to know is...
Do you think you'll ever actually buy an expensive computerized (plastic) machine with a one step button hole and alphabets?

KEEP POSTING!!!
I love your blog!
Jonathan

Ed Lamoureux said...

Actually, I have one - a Janome 6500P. My wife bought one for quilting and I contracted sewing machine envy and bought one for myself. I rarely use it now that I no longer try to make clothing, the home dec and craft stuff I sew most is all straight stitch and I use vintage all-metal family machines or industrials. Haven't fired up the Janome in a year or more. - Ed

Jonathan said...

Wow! that's an expensive machine.
I don't own a Janome, but a repair guy in town I talk to, LOVES them.

I purchased a used 2006 Singer 2732 mechanical machine for sewing classes. It has a horizontal cogged belt running the feed dogs similar to the old light blue Singer stylist 348. The top gears in my Singer 2732 are (of course) plastic. I love the auto threader on it, even though it's feels kinda flimsy and cheap.

In terms of new machines, personally, I love the sleek and simple design of the Singer Confidence machines. The reviews are mixed - which is a shame. They are really smart looking machines. I might have to buy one anyway...lol.
take care,
Jonathan

Anonymous said...

Phase 7 had me laughing so hard...no I was howling because that was exactly my idea. Good thing I didn't hoard Singer 221 or even 222. Last year I watched a 222 go for EUR130.00 on Ebay Germany. My husband asked why I didn't bid for it but strangely enough I had no desire even though I would have given my left arm for one years before. Singer 221s routinely go for EUR49,00 or thereabouts,sometimes in absolutely mint condition!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

Great piece. I admire you and am grateful for the warning. I plan to stick to phase one and stay there.
I have only experienced my moms singer from the late 60's that she covets now (after planning to pass it down when she got her new high end plastic machine from the sew and vac store that she sorely hated.) I got a Revere metalic blue Delux made in Japan at the thrift store and had it tuned and the motor and cord replaced. Was hoping to track down a manual? It had lots of foot attachments but was hoping to learn more about the machine. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers,
Sonya

Gail said...

I laughed out loud at Phase 2:
"... After cleaning, oiling, adjusting, and testing your find, you learn that it's an enjoyable activity and relatively easy, and you ... FEAR THAT YOUR DAUGHTER may actually want it..."
omg - LOL - is that me!

I'm in between Phase 2 and 3 - I own 4ish. I say "ish" because - well - I don't think my Sears sewing machine bought back in 1978 qualifies ... :D

GW said...

Ed, I enjoyed reading your post. I'm just now retired and interested in building my own heavy weight motorcycle jacket as a hobby.
Leather will be cowhide in the 4 oz. range so I guess I need a machine that can handle 2 layers @ 8 ozs total.

I am hoping I can get away with one of the so-called *industrial strength* older machines with metal gears, perhaps a "walking needle" machine?. There seems to be more of these type of machines available as opposed to real industrial machines.
*(I understand these aren't real industrial machines).

Could you possibly advise me if I'm on the right track here Ed?
And if so are there a couple of machines you could recommend?
(with reverse and/or with options you would recommend as being useful for this type of project?)

A final query; can these older 'industrial strength' machines be made more powerful by simply swapping in a more powerful motor or does this idea not work well?

Thank you in advance for any assistance Ed.

Cheers, Ted.
superbonnie2009@gmail.com

Ed Lamoureux said...

I hate to hear the phrase "Industrial Strength Sewing Machine" because that is a phrase manufactured by scammers to sell old, unwanted family sewing machines at an industrial machine price. A sewing machine is either industrial or not industrial. Further, "industrial strength" implies that the machine has a 1/4-3/4 horsepower motor while those "industrial strength" machines still sport their original 1/10-1/20 hp motors.

That said, an all-metal vintage machine with an end-loading bobbin would possibly serve your purpose. A higher hp motor would help, so look for one with an external motor. The Japanese made good machines and they are not in fashion, so the prices remain reasonable. Kenmore, Signature, Brother, Fleetwood, or any of hundreds more machines made in Japan in the 50's and 60's would be my suggestion for a reasonably priced family machine strong enough to sew leather. -Ed

Anonymous said...

Singer Feathweweight my all time favorite for quilting!

kittyhawk said...

Im with you on collecting,but I set a limit of only 50 machines and they all have to work. I try to sell at least 10 a year but most of the time selling a "$10.00" machine that works and has a manuel isnt mush of a sale.But the people Ive met and have made friends with are priceless,I found your site by looking for info on a Easy machine itlooks like a singer Model 15 ,well thanks and good luck write me any time.

Barbara said...

LOVE IT!!!

LC said...

I would love to share this wonderful essay with my quilting and collecting friends. May I copy it? I would of course give you credit thanks. Louise

Ed Lamoureux said...

Certainly. - Ed

Bayside Gal said...

I know exactly what you mean. I keep telling myself that I have to put and end to this insanity. After all, I am gettin absolutely NO sewing done. Fixing the machines to get them working seems to be my high priority. I have ALMOST every machine I could possibly want, YET, tomorrow I am going to pick up 3 FREE machines. When will this stop????

supermom said...

This was a fun read. I do understand how it could become a collecting obsession. I've recently acquired a Singer 15-91 for myself and a 201-2 for our middle daughter. And then in the process of looking for a cabinet for the 15-91, ended up with a 201. Thank goodness lack of space is a major consideration or who knows where this could lead... lol.

Anonymous said...

Ed, You should sell the machine carcasses as anchors! Yeah... well I am full of Ideas... anyway..
I love your blog! Love this post! It is priceless!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your blog and I see myself in your essay. Only the lack of money and space keeps me from having a huge collection. I love the older metal machines. I have been sewing since I was 7 or 8. Started out on my Mom's Singer treadle machine (which she still has in perfect working order). We wore out her late 60's Morse. Then after I was married I was given a straight stitch machine that I can't remember the name of.

I have had several different machines and now 4 that I don't want to part with. My Riccar M40 has been one of the workhorses that just seems to go on forever. It doesn't need foot pedal. Push button start and stop. Then my Mother needed a decent machine and I found a JC Pennies from the early 70's. She did not like it. I would not part with it now. I USE my machines. Now for the collecting bug. I watch Ebay machines and learn a lot by looking at old machines and researching them. I found a Dressmaker machine still in original box with all the cams. It was listed for 9.99. No one bought it on the first listing. then it was going unsold for the second time and I could not bear to see it go unsold. It might have ended up in the dump. The shipping was more than 4 times the cost of the machine. But it is a wonderful machine. (I've got the bug, don't you think?)

My 4th machine is a Kenmore serger.

But I love these older all metal machines. Mom bought a lower level Brother plastic machines and I have used it a few times and I just don't think it would last as long as these older machines that I have. I love using them.

My niece wanted a machine but didn't know what to get and only wanted to spend about $30. At a thrift store I found a Morse 6300 that was dirty all over and looked rough. But when the lady let me plug it in and I touched the foot pedal it took off so smooth and even that I knew that a good oiling and minor tension adjustments would be all it needed.
My niece was perfectly happy with it. The machine is older than she is but she didn't care.
Well I didn't mean to go on for so long, but I just get carried away.

Nancy said...

Heh, I am between phase 3 and 4. Fun essay, Ed.

www.2knitwits.blogspot.com

Elisana said...

This was hilarious, thanks for letting me know where I'm headed!
I just got a Singer 503A today and told my husband I'm selling my computerized Singer...

jen said...

LOL! hilarious! i am in phase 2 right now, and i can see the way ahead. it's a slippery slope!

Leigh Ann said...

I'm late to the party here, but that was hilarious. I think I'm heading towards phase 3.