Category: Old Sewing Machines

Geared up…

Last June, I took a class on how to repair sewing machines. It was an interesting adventure that enlightened me. Until that point I was a die-hard plastic clamshell type of sewing machine owner. If it wasn’t white and plastic I didn’t want it. I did own my grandmother’s black Singer 15-91, but I never found it really convenient to use. During the repair class I realized the power of these classics. With all metal gears and simple mechanics, a 50 to 100 year old sewing machine can still be serviced and sew well. However, the same can’t be universally said for something 5 to 20 years old. The nylon gears in these newer machines disintegrate over time. And don’t forget the computerized machines with their quickly outdated software. Don’t get me wrong…my go to machine is a computerized machine with nylon gears. Its just that for some sewing projects the “new” machine gets a little persnickety.

This fall, in my excitement of learning more about sewing machines, I bought a hobby mechanic’s collection. What better way to learn about machines, than repair a bunch of them? This purchase was somewhat of an insane decision, but I knew my goal wasn’t just about buying old sewing machines. My goal was to “learn” about sewing machines.

Last night, I proved to myself that I made the correct decision in buying this collection. Instead of watching “stupid tv,” I spent the evening fiddling with the tension of my mother’s old Singer 66-16, the machine I learned to sew on.

Up until the last few months, I feared messing with the tension assembly of the top and bobbin threads. It was a fear ingrained by several sewing machine mechanics, all sniping at me to “Don’t Touch It!”  I remember my dad and I having a terrible time with a machine, possibly the very machine I worked on last night. I remember the thread nests on the inside of his  pant legs where he tried to hem them. The mechanic blamed us for fiddling with things. It was frustrating. Then a few years later, I had yet another encounter with a stern mechanic, blaming me for my stitched woes. I gave in, put my hands up, and just accepted their mantra.

Then I started quilting and realized that tension was an important thing to adjust. Each fabric and batting selection will give you a different lock of the stitch. So I apprehensively started turning the tension dial on the top thread, but the hands continued to go up for bobbin thread tension. I would not touch it…

Well, until now! I’ve worked with enough of them now and I understand how a stitch is formed. It is a relatively ingenious process, given that even the new machines use the mechanisms that they did back in the early 1900s. Understanding how the stitch forms, is an enlightening fact for understanding thread tension issues when sewing. I get it.

I used the original manual to guide me in disassembling the top tension dial and the bobbin case.  Step by step, I took things apart and made adjustments. Then I tested the stitching and took everything apart again. After 2 hours of fiddling, this 60+ year old black beauty is sewing like a charm. I wonder if the mechanic that sniped at me had given up tweaking it, and that’s why he said don’t touch it. All I truly know is I now have a great bit more confidence and some pretty stitches.

Some may ask why are you doing this? Don’t you have enough on your plate? Well, one of my goals in life is to teach. By fixing up problem machines, I am becoming a better teacher. I understand what’s going on and I can processes through the machine issues much better. You have no idea how often a machine acts up in class. Knowing what is going on helps me to fix the problem and instill confidence in my student, because they know what’s going on. Sometimes it’s the little things that gear me up.

Let it Snow, Ho, Ho, Ho

About 4 years ago, my sister casually mentioned she wanted a Christmas quilt that she could leave out through the winter. She didn’t want anything that “screamed” Christmas and had to be put away after the New Year. I don’t know if she was really asking me to make her one, but in her subtle way I thought she was. The thought stayed in my mind until 2 years ago, when Moda came out with a fabric line by Sandy Gervais. I was immediately drawn to the charm square bundles (5″ squares) with it’s red, green, dark blue, turquoise and pink fabric selection. This fabric collection did not scream Christmas, but many of the motifs clearly had holiday themes. It was a winner. So I purchased a couple of fabric bundles and some matching red yardage and off I went.

When I got home I did what most quilters do with their stash…I stashed it. The fabric sat for another year. In December 2010, I decided it was time to make this quilt. Sister’s birthday is in January, I thought I could get it done in time for her special day. I purchased some more fabric, brown this time. I think red and brown looks really good together and brown is definitely not thought of as a Christmas color. Then, life got busy. My sister visited me in January and I showed her the lovely fabrics that would soon be her birthday gift that wouldn’t be delivered on her birthday.

Flash forward to June (Yes, June!), and another opportunity to visit with my sister. I had just taken the sewing machine repair class and decided that my sister’s quilt needed to be quilted on my grandmother’s sewing machine. I quilted it and then added the binding on my way to the family reunion (thank goodness for long car rides). While binding, I noticed I had some severe tension issues with my quilting. The question…”Do I pass it on in this condition? or Bring it home again?” Yes, you guessed it, being the perfectionist I try not to be, I showed it to sister and carried it back home.

If you’re a quilter, you may understand that at this point I just really wanted it to go away. At the very least I had to walk away from it for awhile. OK, I agree 5 months does sound like a long time, but life got busy again. Last month, I tackled the inner procrastinator and ripped out all the problem stitches. I then put it back under my grandmother’s machine and re-stitched the newly unquilted areas. Success!

Yesterday my sister received her new quilt. Freshly washed with its batting all crinkled. On the same day at her home, the sky dumped snow. I’m sorry, sister, that your quilt took so long. I am glad you got it in time to show off this Christmas and through to your birthday next year. Unfortunately, my naming of the quilt, well it was inspired by your photo  from last year (left) and it seems be an omen to your upcoming winter season, so “Let it Snow, Ho Ho Ho!”


Traveling alone

I hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving. Each year at this time, I often think of my family that have left this Earth. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s it seems everything focuses on family and familiar traditions. Everyone talks about their kids and their parents. These discussions frequently remind me that I don’t have either. My mother died when I was a teen and my father when I was in my early 30’s. I’ll be honest and say I am a little jealous of people 60+ years old who say they’re going to visit mum, who’s in her 90’s. But I remind myself just as frequently, that you live with the cards you are dealt and make the most of it.

In August, my father’s sister (my godmother) passed to the next world. With her passing, I am aware that I am quickly becoming the “oldest” generation alive in my family. Needless to say with the big 50 approaching, I’m feeling older than my years. I’m calling it a mid-life crisis, even though I’m well passed mid-life (I don’t expect to live to 100). I want to get more out of life. That’s what makes what I’m doing exciting. I’m making larger footsteps in my journey and I’m finding it quite exciting.

So in this light, even though I know it is near the end of November, I have to tell you about another adventure that I had in October. It was a bittersweet journey that was extremely powerful for me.

My godmother’s memorial service was held in Florida in late October. Where she lived in Florida isn’t very convenient to airports and if I flew I would have to rent a car. It looked like the best opportunity to get to the services was to drive. Unfortunately, finding a travel partner wasn’t promising. So I made the decision to travel alone and make it a 5-day journey. I had never done this before, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

As it turned out, on the way to Florida, I was able to stop in SW Georgia to meet someone who was selling her collection of sewing machines. A friend of mine met me there and hauled the machines off to his house for me to pick up later.

My next stop was Florida. Before my godmother’s services, I put myself on a mission to see a live manatee. On a rainy Saturday morning, I found myself alone in a wonderful state park/zoo. I was mesmerized with this opportunity of watching the gorgeous animals and birds without the disturbance of other people (except the keepers). No kids screaming, or people talking, or competition for that fabulous photo opportunity. For 2 hours I was in heaven…and I got to see the manatee.

The next day I was on the road again to visit family in Savannah, GA. I really love that town and I love my cousin who lives there. I had a great time and the next day found myself on the road home. The 5-day journey was over.

Between my highlighted stops, I had a lot of time to be alone. I listened to upbeat music on my XM radio. I thought a million thoughts. Cried a few tears. I was awestruck by the beauty of the country-side which I drove. And I surprised myself, by how much I enjoyed my journey and being alone. Well not completely alone, I did pick up a hitchhiker at McDonalds who became my mascot for the road trip. Now that I’m home, I’m anxious for another opportunity for a road trip. Who knew, I would really like traveling alone.