Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another Recycled Jeans Project

Trolling around the Internet last night, I happened upon a tutorial for a car litter bag. We normally keep a Wal-Mart bag on the floor of the back seat for that purpose, but that looks messy and is always in the way if we have more than one person in the back seat. The litter bag tutorial I found used brightly-patterned cotton fabric and had a pocket sewn on the front for tissues, or anything else you wanted to carry. I looked at my stash and saw an old pair of my wife's jeans, which I had already hacked up for another project, but they still had one leg, including the rear pocket intact. I figured using an already-made pocket would surely be easier than constructing a new pocket, so I decided to design my litter bag around that pocket. Here's what I did:

STEP 1: I pieced together enough jeans material to make a 12"x24" rectangle. Folded in half, that will make an 11"x11" bag. That may be smaller or larger than you want, but it seemed like a good size for us.
STEP 2: I salvaged about two feet of waistband from the front of the jeans, saving the button and the buttonhole. I just hacked them off, you may want to unsew the lower half, remove the excess fabric, and sew the waistband back together, this was a prototype, so I didn't take the time.
STEP 3: I folded the rectangle in half and sewed up the sides from the inside.
STEP 4: I hemmed around the opening.
STEP 5: I attached the two pieces of waistband to the backside of the bag to be used as hanging straps.
FINAL: The denim litter bag roughly matches the dark blue exterior of our car and keeps the trash off the floor. The pocket could be used to hold a small pack of tissues, a pen and note paper, MP3 player, Gameboy, or ???Because this was a prototype and I wanted to finish in a hurry, I didn't measure carefully or do any pressing. I'm sure you could produce a much better looking product.
To keep this on topic, I used my new Singer 603E for this entire project and it had no problems sewing through multiple layers of denim with a universal needle. I picked this beauty up in a local thrift shop last week. It came in a cabinet with drawers full of manual, attachments, cams, notions, and about a half-ton of buttons. The price - $30! Manufactured in 1963/1964, I consider the 600, 603 and 603E to be the last of the "good" Singers, after that, Singer began putting plastic gears in the innards and quality went quickly downhill.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More on Needles

There are four vintage Singer sewing machines that use needles that are slightly different than the standard 15x1 needle used in 99.9% of all home sewing machines. The models are Singer's first domestic zig zag machine, the 206 and its successors, the 306, 319, and the rare free arm 320. The correct needles for these models is the 206x13. Here is a photo of a 206x13 needle (on the top) and a 15x1 needle (on the bottom):

The first thing to notice is that the two needles are the same length from top to the eye. This means that you could insert a 15x1 needle in a 206/306/319 and the machine will sew, because the hook-to-eye timing is identical. However, it is obvious that the point of the 206x13 is much shorter than the 15x1. What happens if you sew with a 15x1 needle in a 206/306/319 is this:

The point of the longer needle strikes the bobbin case and damages both the bobbin case and the needle. Surprisingly to me, you cannot hear the needle strike the bobbin case, so you don't even realize what is happening until you change the bobbin.

The other problem with using the wrong needle is that, because the point is longer, the needle could be still in the fabric when the feed dog begins to move the fabric. This can mean skipped stitches, puckering, and possibly a bent or broken needle. I can see no problem with using a 206x13 needle in a machine designed for a 15x1 needle, except that the 206x13s are considerably more expensive.

For those who like the 306 Class machines, I will try to keep a stock of 206x13 needles in my Etsy Shop, just click on the link below.

206x13 Needles


Monday, September 22, 2008

Hidden Treasure

A couple of weeks ago, I was cruising Ebay and saw a listing for Necchi accessories. Always on the lookout for new Necchi stuff, I clicked on it and saw the fuzzy photo above. Now, there are Necchis that use cams to form decorative stitches, but I could swear those fuzzy plastic discs in that Necchi box were Elna cams. Knowing that Elna cams sell for around $5 apiece on eBay, and seeing at least four and possibly six in that photo, I took a chance and plunked down the $9.99 plus shipping. When I received the package, it contained not four, or even six, but eleven Elna cams, including the monster below:

Elnas are not popular in my neck of the woods, I have only seen two or three in my entire 20-year-plus of collecting sewing machines, so I had no idea what this cam was for. I searched eBay active and completed listings and cannot find a similar cam, so I assume either they are so hard to come by that they aren't traded very often, or there are so many out there that they are worthless. Needlebar identified it as the #200 Buttonhole Disc, and another forum told me, "The buttonhole cam allows the making of buttonholes without rotating the work piece. The cam is a specialized double cam that provides a zig-zag stitch whose width is controlled by the stitch width lever but where the forward and reverse speeds are preset to provide a nice, tight stitch AND are selected by the position of the stitch width lever. The cam's lever has a notch at its end which is fitted behind the stitch width knob. " Now that I know that, I can see the similarity to the Necchi Supernova buttonhole cam, which performs virtually the same functions. Amazing how much engineering went into sewing machines of a half century ago!


Monday, September 08, 2008

Even More Online Manuals

As promised, here are my sources for other free, downloadable sewing machine manuals:



Brother Industrial

Consew Industrial

Juki Industrial

Pfaff Industrial

Singer Industrial

U.S. Blindstitch










Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Singer Online Manuals

I thought I would share my list of sources for online instruction manuals and service manuals. I clicked all these links today to make sure they are still active, doesn't mean they will be tomorrow! These are links to Singer manuals, next time I will dust off my links to other manufacturers.


Singer No. 15
Singer 15K
Instructions for using Singer sewing machines 15-88 and 15-89
Instructions for using Singer Sewing Machine 15-91
Instructions for using Singer sewing machines of class 24 one needle single thread chain stitch for manufacturing.
Singer Sewing Machine No. 27. / Vibrating shuttle number 2.
Singer 99k
Instructions for using Singer sewing machine no. 115
Singer 127 & 128 manual
Instructions for Using Singer Sewing Machine 195k /
Instructions for using Singer Sewing Machine 201
Instructions for Using Singer Sewing Machine no 206
Instructions for using Singer Sewing Machine no. 301
Instructions for using Singer Sewing Machine no 404
Instructions for Using Singer Sewing Machine no 431
Instructions for Using Singer Sewing Machine no 503
Service Manual Singer 66, 99, 185. /
Adjuster's Manual Singer 15-91
Adjuster's Manual for Singer 206k25 /
Swing Needle Service Manual Models 306, 319, 401
Service Manual for Models 620, 625, 626, and 628

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I have cruised eBay for many years, researching and buying sewing machines. About once a year, a smaller version of a Japanese 15 Class machine shows up. They usually have cutesy names, like Margaret or Princess and they usually sell for about $75 – much more than a standard size 15 Class machine (and more than I am willing to pay). Last week, I noticed one that did not have a cute name and the dimensions were not noted in the description, but looking at the rear view, the motor seemed considerably larger than normal and the proportion of the throat area seemed odd. Not wanting to ask a question and tip off other bidders, I bid what I considered was a reasonable amount and ended up the only bidder at 99 cents! Shipping brought my total to just under $18.

UPS delivered it yesterday. The length of the bed is 12”, compared to a standard bed of 14”. The space from needle to vertical pillar is 5.75”, compared to 7” on a full size machine. Other than that, everything seems to be normal size, except the length of all the shafts. After cleaning and oiling, it runs smooth, but I haven't gotten around to installing a spool pin to test stitch. I will need to manufacture a base for it – it won't fit in a standard base or cabinet. Before I do, I will try it in a ¾ size carrying case from a Singer 99.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You Can Use Vintage Sewing Machines!

Earlier this month I was packing for a trip to Japan. I couldn’t find the shoe bag I made years ago and didn’t want to put my shoes in a plastic Wal-Mart bag, so I decided to whip up another shoe bag. While I was rummaging through the box of scrap fabric, I noticed a pair of my wife’s discarded jeans. It seemed that the bottom of each leg might make a bag large enough for one shoe. Measuring the shoes I wanted to pack, I cut off 18" of the lower end of each pant leg.

I worked the rest of the project with the denim tube inside out. You can’t see it in this photo, but I tucked in about an inch on each side and sewed across the bottom of each leg.

I opened about 1.5" of the seam in the upper edge of the tube to make an opening for the drawstring and sewed down the two seam allowances.

Next, I sewed a ¾" tunnel for the drawstring and inserted the string.

Turning the bag right side out, it is finished.

Using a higher section of the leg, you could make one bag large enough to hold two shoes, but I thought it might be easier to pack a pair of shoes if they could be tucked into two separate corners of the suitcase. Just to keep this on the subject of vintage sewing machines, I sewed this project on my Singer 111W155 compound feed upholstery machine. That monster made quick work of those denim seams.

I traded an 8-track player for this machine in the early 70's. I had it professionally rebuilt for $295 and have used it for about 35 years now with no further repair. I expect it to last me the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quit Needling Me!

There has been more than the usual chatter on the sewing forums lately about needles. It seems that very few sewers know
anything about needles and the few who think they do are merely repeating urban myths that they heard from some questionable
source. I decided to perform some research and publish my results here. Before sewing machine and sewing forums sprang up on
the internet, I had a very limited knowledge of sewing machine needles. Thanks to folks like Bill Holman, who are willing to
share their years of experience, I learned enough to be dangerous, but still keep hearing stories about one brand of needle
being better than another, or one brand being longer than another so they won't work in certain machines. I dug through my
needle stash and pulled out samples of widely-used needles and put them on my scanner at high resolution to see what the
difference really is. I started this exercise with the preconceived notion that standard 15x1 needles are all manufactured to
the same specification, so they all had to be identical, and all the hype about one brand being better than another was just so much hogwash. I do know that there are different styles of needles - sharp, ball point, leather, etc., and some needles are manufactured a little off-center to aid in sewing knits, but a ball-point Schmetz should be identical to a ball point Singer, right?.

The usual argument is that Singer needles are a bit longer than Schmetz and, for some reason, that makes the Schmetz needles sew better. I took needles made by Schmetz and Singer and carefully lined them up on the glass of my scanner. I tossed in an Organ needle, too, because that's the brand I use most and wanted to see how Organ compares to the other brands. I also
have a box of very old Singer needles and tossed one of them in the mix to see how needles have changed over the years.

In the photo, the Schmetz and new Singer are the two center needles, the Singer being identified by the red shaft. The Organ needle is on the left, and the vintage Singer needle is on the right. I used a straight edge to align the shafts and found that all the stories I had heard about Singer needles being longer than Schmetz are all hot air - both modern needles are the same length. Additionally, the distance from the top of the shaft to the top of the eye (the critical distance for timing) is the same on all four. The distance from the eye to the point of the Organ needle was just a tad shorter than both the Singer and Schmetz, as was the vintage Singer needle. The eye of the vintage Singer needle is roughly half the size of the eye of all the modern needles, and the vintage Singer needle has no scarf.

Here are my conclusions:

- Modern Singer and Schmetz needles are identical.
- Of the three brands, no one modern needle appears to be better than another.
- Organ needles appear to be identical to Schmetz and Singer, except that the distance from the eye to the point is shorter. If you like Schmetz, try Organ at one-third the price and see if you can tell the difference.
- If you still have some old needles in the drawers of Grandma's treadle, you might be better off replacing them with modern needles. At least, save them to use with the older machine and don't "borrow" them for your new, computerized machine.