Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More on the Value of Old Sewing Machines

I had a chance to watch the HGTV show "Cash In The Attic" this morning where the host and an "expert" pick items from a family's possessions and takes them to auction to raise funds for a specific purpose or project. One of this morning's possessions was the lady's Grandmother's Singer sewing machine. The machine lived down in the basement, the finish was dull or extremely dirty and it was covered with cobwebs. Probably frozen solid from being in the damp basement for a prolonged period, too. It was a 15 Class machine, I think a 15-91 but I didn't get a good look at the backside to be sure. The "expert" asked the owner what she thought it was worth and she immediately said, "$400 to $500". The "expert" explained that everyone has a Singer sewing machine, they aren't rare and estimated the value at $50. Needless to say, the owner was considerably deflated, seeing her bathroom remodeling going up in smoke. I was a bit skeptical at the $50 estimate because I have never paid more than half that for a 15-91. It sold at auction for $5.

I run into this all the time - people visit antique shops and see treadle machines marked at $250, then think that because they have a similar black Singer with gold decals, theirs has a similar value. It just ain't so.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Singer 401/500/600 Stitch Selectors

I have seen a couple of postings on forums recently mentioning that the stitch selector controls on Singer models 401, 500, or 600 no longer function. These three popular vintage machines share a similar mechanical structure and this is a common problem with all three models. The good news is that the problem is easily remedied.

When you rotate the stitch select knobs on the 401/500 or move the stitch select levers on the 600, you are causing metal collars to slide up or down on metal posts to select the desired stitch on the camstack. When the collars are not sufficiently lubricated, they stick to the posts and will no longer slide. If the collars don't slide, the control knobs/levers will not move, either.

The cure is to remove the top cover and dribble a drop or two of sewing machine oil down the two posts. The result won't be instantaneous - you should let the machine sit overnight before attempting to move the stitch select controls. Even that may not be enough, you might have to repeat the oil & wait cycle several times. If, after 3 times of oiling and waiting overnight, the collars still will not slide smoothly, try directing some hot air from a hair dryer toward the collars, that should make the collars expand enough to break loose.

Once the collars begin to exhibit a slight bit of movement, exercise them to work the oil in all around the area between the post and collar. Whatever you do, DON'T FORCE THE CONTROLS! If you bend or break the linkage between the control and the collar, it is no longer a simple, low-cost, do-it-yourself repair job.

After you have the stitch selector controls operating smoothly, make the posts part of your regular oiling routine.


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.