Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Necchi Zig Zag Issue

Tammy is having problems with her Lelia, it won't zig zag. Probably half the vintage Necchis I have owned had this problem when I got them. Necchis are victims of their own perfection - tolerances are so tight that even a minor build-up of corrosion that would not affect a lesser machine is enough to freeze a Necchi up tight. The cure to that problem in all my machines has been to lubricate the swivel arm top and bottom and wait overnight to see if the oil has penetrated enough to loosen up the swing arm.

Mere oiling will probably not be enough to free up the swivel arm, it might need some help. First thing to try is heat, preferably from a hair dryer. Heat will cause the parts to expand, hopefully they will expand enough for some of the new oil to work down in where it will do some good. It might take several applications of oil and heat to get the swivel arm loose enough to move. Apply oil, heat and wait overnight.

Once the swing arm swivels the tiniest bit, you're almost home! Remove the needle, bobbin case and shuttle and hold the stitch width lever to the widest point you can get it without forcing it and bending some linkage. Run the machine at top speed, holding the stitch width lever to the right. As that new oil works its way in, you should notice the needlebar taking wider and wider strokes and the stitch width lever moving gradually to the right. When you are able to move the stitch width lever all the way to the widest stitch and the needlebar is taking full 5mm zig zags, you are done.

Ironically, the Necchi oiling diagram does not show these as oiling points and does not even direct the owner to remove the end cover to oil anything in that end of the machine. There are lots of moving parts in that location that require lubrication - the needlebar, presser bar, takeup lever, and others. Once you've taken care of the zig zag problem, before closing up the machine, put a drop of oil every place metal rubs against metal and your machine will run quieter and smoother.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Who Needs Maaco?

I saw some chat on one of the sewing forums the other day concerning repainting vintage sewing machines and that brought to mind the industrial Singer 96-10 that I re-finished a while back. Industrial sewing machines are built to work for many years with minimal maintenance in a factory setting. While the guts are strong, the paint coat is another story; it’s the weakest part of an industrial sewing machine. of the 15 +/- industrial machines I own, at least half have been repainted, partially or fully. I have seen many industrial machines that were in perfect working order that looked like they had been dragged from Boston to Miami behind a cement truck. My 96-10 didn’t exactly fit that description, but it was pretty bad. I found the sewing head in a thrift shop for $30. The slide plate and bobbin case were missing and the thread take-up lever was broken off. Less than $50 of parts later had it sewing just fine, but still looking sad, so I decided to refresh the paint with automotive paint and a couple of coats of clear topcoat for protection.

There was no rust, so I didn’t need to clean out a lot of pits and fill them in, I just sanded, primed, and painted. I removed everything I could from the exterior of the machine to avoid taping. Impatient as I am, the whole project took less than a day, and most of that was waiting for coats of paint to dry. Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that the paint on the horizontal arm in photo 3 is smoother than that in photo 4 – that’s because I was a bit too hasty in attempting to apply a Singer decal and didn’t wait until the paint had sufficiently cured. Regardless, it looks much better and still sews like it should. I just pulled it out last week and lubed it up and have been sewing small projects with it. If I can find the “before” photo, I will show you the 111W155 that I resurrected another time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

About a week ago, I was trying to sew some light cotton fabric with a ¼” seam on my Singer 31-15. The stitch would progress fine for a while, then the fabric would bunch up under the presser foot. Thinking the thread was getting caught somewhere under the throat plate, I tightened tension, increased presser foot pressure, checked for burrs in the hook area and everything else I could think of that would cause the thread to get caught and stop the fabric from feeding.

Almost by accident, I saw that one of the legs on the throat plate was broken away from the plate. When the presser foot was lifted, the leg came up into its natural position; when the presser foot was lowered, the weight of the foot pushed the leg down, leaving a rough surface on the plate itself for the fabric to catch on. One theory for the cause of this is that, in the past, the presser foot has been allowed to freefall onto the throat plate, rather than being gently lowered.

This not the first time I have had this problem, and that’s why I mention it here. I got a Necchi Lycia off ebay that had exactly the same issue. The machine worked very well, but fabric kept bunching up beneath the presser foot. Parts for most common industrial machines, like this 31 Class Singer are easy to find and reasonably priced – I got a new throat plate and feed dog set for $4.95 plus shipping. I don’t remember if I ever did find a replacement throat plate for the Necchi.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Singer That Should Be Forgotten

Actually, it’s a whole family of Singers: models 206, 306, and 319. These were Singer’s first attempts at zig zag machines for family use and I personally think they missed their target. The machines are noisy, clumsy to use, and rotating and oscillating machinery is exposed to catch long hair or thread. These three models require special 206x13 needles. As far as I can tell, 206x13 needles are only available in sizes 12, 14, and 16, so if you are doing work that requires a size 11 or 18, you’re out of luck. I doubt that you will find 206x13 needles at your local sewing machine dealer, be prepared to special order and pay about four times as much as standard 15x1 needles. The 206 and 306W use standard industrial bobbin and bobbin case. Once you know that, bobbin cases are easy to find and cheap. However, if you need a bobbin case for your 306K or 319W, that will be tough to find and will probably cost more than you paid for the rest of the machine.

I tried my best to bond with the machine in the photo and just can’t do it. I changed out the motor to get rid of the motor noise, but there is still so much rattling in the sewing mechanism that I always feel like I’m sewing on some cheap piece of junk. I’m glad that Singer realized the error of their ways and redesigned their machines for the introduction of the 401.

For those who like this series of Singers, I will try to keep a stock of 206x13 needles in my Etsy shop, just click on the link below.  All I can find are size 12 and 14 at this time.

206x13 Needles

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Forgotten Singer

Many folks covet the Singer 15-91 for its gear drive that presumably makes the machine capable of sewing heavier materials. No belt to slip or need adjusting. It has the revered 15 Class oscillating hook that has been a standard for almost a hundred years and is still manufactured today. I have owned several 15-91s and agree that they are one of the best made 15 Class machines.

However, there is a Singer that followed the 15-91 that is every bit as strong and reliable. It uses the same motor, same gear drive, same drive train, and same 15 Class sewing system but sports more modern styling and paint, the 15-125.

But, for some reason, while many want a 15-91, few wish to own a 15-125! Why would anyone want a 15-91 when they could have a 15-125? Perhaps I am partial because a 15-125 was the first machine I bought when I embarked on my vintage sewing machine collecting spree - not my first machine, that was a Singer 301 but a 15-125 was the first one I bought purely as a collectible.

The one pictured here is my second, one I picked up at a local auction where, again, I was the only bidder. This is another machine that has sat idle for years because it was buried under other, newer acquisitions. I uncovered it a week ago and I decided to oil it up and check it out. Usually, I sew only one project on a machine before I become bored and swap it out for another machine but I have sewed 4 projects on this one and have no intention of replacing it anytime soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

As I move out some of the old machines, I find others I had forgotten. This morning, in a cabinet in the storage shed that I had thought was empty, I found a Necchi 515. One of my favorite machines, I don't remember why I relegated it to the storage building. I'll have to get it out and play with it some day.

Today's project, however, was a horse of a different color. It is a Thompson PW-201 Mini-Walker that has been back behind other machines for several years because I was not pleased with it.

I had been wanting one of these for years, and when this one came up for bids at a local auction, I was quite excited. Either no one else in the room knew what it was, or no one else was in the market for this type of machine, but I was the only bidder and walked away with it for a $5 bid. I oiled and cleaned it and it sewed okay, but was noisy enough to require hearing protection. I took it out on a job, making an instrument panel cover for a boat and halfway through the project, the tension assembly popped off and went into the water. I brought it home and shoved it in a corner, never to see the light of day until now.

This is essentially a family machine on steroids, built to sew heavier goods than the standard family machine. It's marketed as a portable industrial machine with built-in walking foot and drop feed. Sailrite sells a newer model with zig zag capability.

It uses the same industrial needles as my big Singer upholstery machine and it easily sews with 69 nylon thread. Although it uses a family machine style motor, it has a reduction gear to lower speed and increase punching power and toothed belts to reduce slippage.

I dusted it off today and oiled it and replaced the tension assembly with an industrial tension assembly. When I fired it up, it was just as noisy as ever and I was ready to stuff it back in a corner when I noticed a loose screw on top of the head in the walking foot linkage. I tightened the screw and the noise reduced significantly, so I looked all over the machine for other possible problems. Another screw was loose in the walking foot linkage inside the needlebar door and tightening it made the machine noise almost bearable. Adjusting the inner foot so it didn't rub on the outer foot was the final task and now I can actually stand to sew on it. I might even take it with me the next time I have to travel to the job.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Value of an Old Sewing Machine

One of the most common questions asked of sewing machine enthusiasts is, "What is my old sewing machine worth?"

Vintage sewing machines are valued much like vintage automobiles. Just saying you have an 1891 Singer sewing machine is not enough to establish the value. Several other factors must be considered:

- Condition: Is it a rusty hulk, or shiny, showroom shape?

- Model: Each manufacturer made several machines for different pocketbooks, just as with autos, the luxury models usually retain their value better than the utility models.

- Configuration: How many drawers does the treadle cabinet have? Counting the center drawer, it could be 3, 5, or 7 drawers. Is there any fancy carving on the cabinet, or is it pretty plain? Often, the treadle cabinet is worth more than the machine itself!

- Has it been electrified by removing it from the treadle cabinet and adding a motor and foot control, or is it in its original configuration?

- Accessories: Does the machine have its instruction manual and full complement of accessories that came with it? Are there any additional accessories that were purchased later?
Then there are other issues that can affect the selling price of a vintage sewing machine:

- Location: If you live in an upscale U.S. neighborhood, probably very few buyers will be interested in an average condition old sewing machine. If you live in an area with a large number of lower income families, they might want an old, reliable sewing machine to actually sew on.

- Furniture value: If your machine is in a nice wood cabinet, some may be interested in it purely for its decorative value. Others will shy away because they don't have room for a cabinet or it does not match their d├ęcor. Some buyers will only want a portable model they can stash away in a closet when not in use.

- Shipping: If you are only willing to sell locally, your market will be limited. If your machine is small enough to ship, listing it on Ebay might bring a quicker sale and higher price.
Speaking of Ebay, that is probably the best place to research prices for old sewing machines. Look for machines of the same model and age, in the same condition. Note the accessories that come with it and see how closely your item matches the Ebay item.