Tuesday, October 16, 2012

1926 Singer 99 - Part 3 - Cleaning

I know at the end of Part 2, I said that I'd cover re-assembly and timing in Part 3. But one of my readers asked how I clean my machines, so I thought I'd cover that in this post. (Woo-hoo, I have readers!) I will preface this post by saying that what I do and what works for me is only my opinion. It is not the authoritative rule on the subject. If my tips or strategies work for you, then I am pleased that one more machine is salvaged from the garbage heap. With that said, take my advice at YOUR OWN RISK. I cannot be responsible for damaged machines unless I personally work on them; and I only work on my personal machines.

Now, on to the messy fun....

With the Singer 99 fully disassembled (except for the main shaft in the arm), it was time to clean the machine. This part can actually be tricky if you don't have a lot of patience. Many people, myself included, want to douse a dirty old machine with whatever household detergents or industrial cleaners to remove the old oil, gunk and grime as quickly and effortlessly as possible. As nice as that may sound, we have to remember that the paint finish on these vintage/antique machines is quite old. In this particular case, 86 years old. An 86 year old paint finish was not designed to withstand the harshness of modern chemicals. And on the off-chance that the paint does handle the harsh chemicals, chances are that those beautiful decals that adorn the machine will be forever damaged.
Harsh modern cleaners can destroy the gold decals on vintage machines.
These decals are in tact, and I want to keep them that way.
Time, Use, and household chemicals caused the gold decals
on this Singer 27's sewing bed to silver and fade to silhouettes.
Also, spots along the arm and pillar have silvered. The previous
owner used 409 spray. That would be a big NO-NO!
An industrial cleaner would have taken that dirt and grim off in a heartbeat. Along with it, the factory clearcoat would most likely be pulled away as well (technically, varnish or shellac - but I'll use clearcoat only as a generic term). Once that protective coating is removed, nothing stands in between the elements and those decals. Even the mildest modern cleaner can turn beautiful gold decals into silver ghosts of their former glory, as can be seen on the bed of the Singer 27. Years of use wore away the protective coating; household cleaners like Formula 409 and Windex ate away at the beautiful gold decals.

When cleaning a sewing machine head, the first thing I do is I take a damp piece of scrap flannel cloth and wipe down the entire head. Damp, not soaking wet. I wipe, turn and fold the cloth, wipe again, and rinse in clean water. I do this to remove as much loose dirt as possible, and so as not to grind the grit into the machine head's finish. I continue rinsing the rag in the sink, not in a rinse bucket. This helps keep buildup on the rag to a minimum and I'm not reintroducing dirt back onto the machine.

Once the initial damp cloth cleaning is finished, I thoroughly wipe down the machine head with another scrap piece of flannel cloth. I try to make certain there is absolutely no water or dampness left; remember, water + iron = rust. We don't want that in our our machine! The next step is the hard core cleaning. This part takes time, patience, cotton balls, and lots and lots of all three!

My cleaner of choice is the Pumice-free GOJO hand cleaner. I was able to pick this up at my local ACE Hardware store (which is also where I found the TriFlow oil that I'll mention later). It was recommended on the Vintage Singers Yahoo Group and it has worked well for me on all of my machines. So far, so good, with no issues. I do, however, still test an inconspicuous spot on the backside of the machine, just in case. Why? Because paint processes change over time, and just because my GOJO worked on previous machines, doesn't necessarily mean it will work on the next machine; I'd rather be overly-cautious than to ruin a beautiful machine.
Pumice Free GOJO cream hand cleaner.
Cleaning with the GOJO (remember, Pumice FREE) works well. I work in small areas at a time, in small circular motions, and I constantly change to fresh, new cotton balls. And I do use the GOJO anywhere and everywhere on the machine, after trying it on my "test spot". It is not uncommon for me to go through an entire package of cotton balls. Good thing they are cheap at the Dollar Store!
That's a lot of dirt that the GOJO removes. I'm not convinced
that it doesn't remove some of the 'clearcoat' as well. But,
it doesn't appear to damage the paint, and it has proven
safe for the decals on all of my machines.
Once I am satisfied that the machine head is as clean as I can get it with the GOJO, I wipe it down again with another dry cloth, removing any residual cleaner. Then, I coat a cotton ball with sewing machine oil, and I thoroughly saturate the entire machine - paint, moving parts that still may be attached, everything. I let the machine sit like this for a day, and then I coat the entire machine again and let it sit for another day.

While the machine head is soaking in its 'oil bath', I begin soaking, scrubbing and cleaning all of the parts I have removed in a degreasing solution. I start by gently scrubbing the loose dirt and debris free with a small brass brush. Sometimes, this alone is enough for a particular part; most of the time, though, it requires a soaking in a commercial degreaser. For the soaking, I use this:

I found this at my local home improvement store (Lowe's - aka, the Big Blue Church). I tried spraying it on, and wiping it off; that didn't prove to be as effective as soaking the parts in the degreasing 'bath'. Soaking times will vary depending on how caked-on the dirt is. I generally let most parts soak for about an hour, and then scrub them with on old toothbrush. I do recommend using nitrile or other protective gloves while using any chemical cleaners. My hands are not sensitive to this cleaner, but I use gloves anyway. The glove help keep my hands clean, and personal cleanup is a lot easier.

Once the parts are scrubbed, I re-soak them for about then minutes, and then I follow with a rinse of hot water, to flush any residual cleaner from the part. I dry them thoroughly, both with a cloth and a hair dryer to displace any moisture. With this particular cleaner, I sometimes notice a brown/tan discoloration on some of the parts. I think it is mostly oxidation and it usually wipes off with a clean rag. After the parts are completely dry, I coat each of them in sewing machine oil with a cotton ball or cotton swab. Wipe down the oil, re-apply and let the parts sit for a day.

I check each part for potential rust. If I see any rust at all, I scrub the part with a steel or brass brush and reapply sewing machine oil again. Once I am satisfied that all the parts are clean and properly oiled to inhibit rust, I get them ready for reassembly.

When it comes to removing rust from chrome or nickel plated parts, I use Evaporust. I picked this product up from my local Harbor Freight and it works wonders and neutralizing rust. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions, however; if parts are soaked too long long in the Evaporust, they will turn a dull gray finish and it is near impossible to polish them up from that.

Now that the plated pieces are clean and dry, it's time to polish them up and make them shine. The best product I've found for this is Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish. I used this on the chrome work of my Oldsmobile 442 back in my younger days. And a little bit goes a long way.
Here's what the faceplate looked liked before I started and after I finished. It had a quick 15 minute bath in the degreaser, followed by a rinse and dry. Then it had a bath in the Evaporust to neutralize the the few spots of potential rust. Rinse and dry again. Then, using the Mothers and good old-fashioned elbow grease, the faceplate shines like new again!
This before and after truly is a 'Night & Day' effect!

With all of the pieces cleaned, oiled and polished, reassembly is next and I'll cover that in Part 4.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1926 Singer 99 - Part 2

Before I start in on the second part of the 1926 Singer 99 restoration, I want to apologize for not getting it posted sooner. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball from out in left-field, and if you aren't looking for it, it smacks you in the side of the head. It's been one of those months, and life and family take priority over any leisure time I have. Things still haven't settled down, but I have found a moment or two to hide myself away in my projects.

Now, on to the fun stuff!

In Part 1, I spent most of the post disassembling the electronics and removing the machine from its Bentwood case. It never ceases to amaze me at just how much gunk accumulates on these vintage machines. Granted, this one is 86 years old, but a little dust rag here and there wouldn't have hurt it over the years.
The accumulated dirt underneath where the motor sits.
After removing the electrics, I began assessing the condition of the machine's mechanics. Digging into the hook area and needle bar area, this machine showed evidence of having been neglected as far as basic maintenance goes. The bobbin was still half full with some very old (and smelly) vintage thread. Removing the bobbin case on this 99 machine is identical to the other 99 that I have. Just lift the bobbin case retention bracket, and slide it to the right. This loosens the resistance on the bobbin case, and with a little wiggling, it should come right out. With the bobbin case removed, there must have been a pound of lint impacted into the hook area. Lint attracts moisture, mix moisture with metal, and you have a breeding ground for rust.
With the bobbin case bracket turned to the right, the bobbin case has been removed.
That's a lot of lint! 
The rust was evident on the bobbin case bracket. You can also see that someone had tried adjusting the retention spring in the past, as the screw head is nearly stripped. I wonder if the previous owner had thought adjusting the spring would solve whatever issue he/she was having with all of the impacted lint and thread trapped in the hook area.
Rust on the ejection spring; nearly stripped adjustment screw. BUT, the oil wick is in tact.
Normally, I would disassemble and clean a machine in sections. But since I've become familiar with the workings of the 99, and I have quite an assortment of pre-disassembly photos, I decided to keep removing parts and clean all at one time. It is easier that way for me.

I worked on the needle-bar assembly next. This was another area who's maintenance had been neglected. The pressure adjusting rod was heavily coated in rust, and its internal spring was very brittle.
Behind the face plate, the ol' girl shows her age.
Simple maintenance would keep this area fully functional.

The bottom spring is the original.
It fractured and broke three separate times because it was so brittle.
The top spring is the replace I bought off eBay.
Removing the needle-bar is still a bit scary for me. I worry about not being able to reset the timing when I put everything back together again. The truth is, these old machines are so simplistic in their nature (by today's standards), that putting it back together, and adjusting the timing is less difficult than I once imagined. One thing to note on this 1926 99 versus my 1950 99 - the 1950 actually has a timing gauge attached to the needle thread guide (seen on the left); the 1926 version does not. The 1926 should have had an older style timing mark system, but it was not there. In order to set the 1926's timing, you'll have to become familiar with the needle-bar's lowest and highest positions, and the position of the hook in relation to the needle. I'll cover that in re-assembly later.

The thread guide, with and without the Timing Gauge.
Removing the tension engaging arm was more difficult. On the 3/4-sized 99s, the arm is held in place by a pin, which must be tapped out. On larger sewing heads, that is usually held in by a screw. Once I figured out how to maneuver my tools and hands into position, the pin came out rather easily. Yes, it took a good whack or two with the rubber mallet and the drill punch, but it didn't offer much resistance.
The red arrow shows where the pin will come out.
Working from the underarm side of the head, drive the pin out
with a nail punch and a mallet.
Though it's out of focus, you can see the gunk coated on the pin as well.
Next up was the feed dog and hook drive mechanism. One screw holds the feed dogs in, and that same screw can adjust height clearance as well. A series of tap rollers controls the motion of the feed dogs and the hook. Over time, these rollers become clogged with lint and debris, and if not properly maintained, they will seize up and no longer roll freely. When this happens, flat spots will develop. I was fortunate with this machine - although the rollers had seized, they had not yet developed flat spots. Once I cleaned and thoroughly oiled them, they roll freely and smoothly.
Feed Regulator - the feed dogs attach here. This roller should turn freely.
The Feed Raising Bar and its roller. It too should spin freely.
Once the bottom end parts have been removed and begun their soaking process, I move back to the top and rear of the sewing head. On top of the model 99, there is an combination screw/bushing (Arm Rock Shaft Screw) whose oiling access point is right next to the spool pin. Often times, you'll see a spool pin wedged into this access hole. I like to remove this bushing and clean it out thoroughly. It is more than likely fully clogged with lint and debris, and little to no oil can pass through the small opening in the bottom. When I removed the bushing from this machine, it was jam-packed with gunk. You should be able to see the opening in the photo. Oil flows from here to the Arm Rock Shaft in the pillar of the machine head. Since the 99 does not have an access panel from the backside, proper maintenance of this bushing is critical to a smooth running machine.

This oiling hole is often plugged with lint and debris. It must be kept
clear in order for oil to penetrate to the Rocker Shaft below.
The last parts I remove are the stitch regulator screw, and the Feed Forked Connection and assembly. The screw just below the hand-wheel holds this mechanism in place. But be warned - on these 3/4-sized machines, it can be a beast putting it back together again. Sometimes I find I need six hands and a contortionist's degree. But with a little patience, it can be done. Having a magnetic screwdriver doesn't hurt either. Stupidly, I did not photograph the removal process for this. I have done it before with a Singer 128 and it is near identical to the 99 in this aspect and I'll look for a photo from that rebuild to add here later.

Part 3 will cover the re-assembly and timing of the machine. And Part 4 will cover the motor and electrics re-wire. {Edit - this changed a bit, as now there will be 5 parts. Part 3 - Cleaning; Part 4 - Reassembly & Timing; Part 5 - Electrical.} As I go along, if there are any parts or sections that you would like more information on, please let me know and I'll try to cover or explain them as I understand them to work.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buttons, buttons...buttons

When I began making my latest shirt, I must admit that buttons were the farthest thing from my mind. I picked the pattern, I dug the fabric out of my stash, and I chose a nice red thread for the assembly. But nope, never did I even consider what buttons I would use.

I usually stick with the plain and simple white, opalescent buttons. They match just about everything and all of my store-bought shirts have come with extras, so I've amassed quite a collection. So, now that the shirt is assembled (I stayed up way too late last night finishing it), I have to make a button choice. I pulled out my stash of buttons (we all have them, I think we secretly hoard them), and I just stared. I narrowed it down to four.

The top is the opalescent standby. This shirt makes a statement, so I'm not certain I want plain Jane buttons. The second button is a milky, variegated  almost translucent white. I like it and it stands out against the red of the fabric. The red button was actually my first color choice. It disappears into the red of the fabric, but really stands out against the white flowers. The last one is almost and off-white, but it doesn't show well in the photo. That button blends the best with the flowers and their internal coloring. I'm really leaning towards that one, with the red as a very close second.

With either of those two buttons, there will be a certain amount of high contrast, depending on where the button holes fall on the placket. And, because I've chosen to use the same red thread used in assembly and the top-stitching for the buttonholes. Therefore, my buttonholes better look perfect. And they will look perfect, because I'll be using my grandmother's 401 and the Singer Professional Buttonholer. That little gizmo makes better buttonholes than any modern machine that I've seen. (Hope I didn't just jinx myself.)

Also, I need to decide if I want to put buttons on the collar, to hold the collar crisply to the shirt, like a typical oxford. When I tried the shirt on last night (and it fits GREAT!), I couldn't decide if I liked the collar falling wherever, or if I liked it better tacked down. I'm leaning towards the tacked down version, even though the pattern doesn't call for it. I'll need to find two smaller buttons in the same color and style as the rest. That task may just make the decision for me.

As soon as this shirt is done, I need to start tearing down and cleaning the Singer 66-1 and cut the fabric for my Halloween costume. It's a boring Roman senator/Caesar pattern, that I hope to jazz up a bit with some fancy stitchery using either the 401 or the modern L-500. The L-500 makes a horrible straight stitch, but its decorative stitches are beautiful. I had to pull out the Featherweight to top-stitch the sleeve cuffs on my shirt; the L-500 just balked at the multiple layers of fabric and interfacing. It's a good thing I bought it used for a third of its retail cost and that it quilts beautifully; otherwise I'd have thrown it out the window.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Current Project

In between rebuilding/restoring my vintage machines, I am actually managing to find some time for sewing. Not a lot of time, mind you, but some time here and there. My current project is a Simplicity 2741 shirt that I actually started a few months ago. I'm working on view 'A', the blue one in the photo.

When I made the first muslin, I traced and cut the pattern based upon the Large/40"-44" chest size; my actual chest measurement is a 42". (Do you know how long I've wanted to say that??? Pre-weight loss it was 54".) Once that muslin was completed and I did the test fit, the shirt was entirely too large - shoulders, chest, waist/gut. I even felt like the sleeves were sails for small ship! I started pinning, marking and adjusting the muslin and realized that too many adjustments would have to be made. I re-cut the pattern using the Medium/38"-40" chest size and it seems to be working much better now.
Simplicity 2741

I've completed the back/yoke/front attachment; added the collar and collar stand. And last night I prepped the cuffs and attached both sleeves. This particular pattern has one of the easiest collar assemblies in my opinion. The instructions and the graphics are straight forward and appear easier to follow than other shirt patterns I have used. Maybe I'm just getting better with experience, but I would recommend this pattern to a a beginner.

And yes, I know the fabric is really 'loud' and obnoxious. I bought this fabric on clearance a few years ago, with the intention of using it in a quilt. But I liked it so much, I really thought it would make a great shirt. Unfortunately, at my size then, the print would have magnified my size and so it sat in the closet to be forgotten. When I went digging through my stash a few weeks ago, I rediscovered it and said 'why not?'.  I have the confidence to wear it now, and if nothing else, I'm sure I could find a luau/beach party to attend and show it off. One thing is for certain, it will be a one of a kind. I'm not afraid of a little color, are you? I hope to finish it this weekend - we'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

1926 Singer 99 - Part 1

On a recent north Georgia treasure hunt, I found yet another vintage sewing machine at an incredible price. Well, incredible for me anyway. It is a 1926 Singer 99, complete with the Bentwood case and knee control lever, for a staggering $25!!! That may seem a lot to some of you for an 86 year old sewing machine that needs refurbishing, complete with a total re-wire. But to me, that is a steal! In my local Craigslist, these machines frequently run for much higher, and on eBay the prices are just plain ridiculous. Sure, I'd easily pay $150 for the same machine if it were already refurbished, rewired and in excelled working condition; but no way would I pay that much for a machine where I have to supply the parts and the labor. That takes away from my sewing time!

This is the machine, as found; and now affectionately known as "Ruby". Other than lots of dirt, lint and crumbly wiring, she doesn't look bad for her age at all.

1926 Singer 99

I want to keep this machine as original as possible, with the exception of the wiring. Wiring that is 80+ years old can be scary - brittle, crumbly, and exposed bare wires. All of those things can add up to a painfully dangerous shock, house fire, or worse. And being unable to test the machine's motor, I have to keep in mind that it may need replacing. So the first step was to photograph everything and from multiple angles and begin assessing what parts/materials I would need to restore this machine.

First things to add to the budget, electrical supplies  - $30 for a potential motor replacement; $5-$10 for wiring/cords/soldering supplies/etc. I already had some wire left over from the previous machine's re-wire; I bought it in bulk to save on shipping. Somehow, I knew I would be going down this road again in the future. But I still want to account for it in the 'total cost' of refurbishment. It gives me a good idea of a machine's 'cost of ownership' should I decide to rescue another vintage machine. (And we all know given my current track record, there will be others. I'm perusing Craigslist now as I write this post.)

The internal wiring didn't look too bad on the surface. But, being cloth covered, looks can be deceiving. Upon deeper inspection, I found exposed wires where both the cloth and latex insulator had worn away, and on a few of the end connectors, the wires had broken into separate pieces.
On the surface, wiring 'looks' okay. But it is hard and non-flexible. It has survived past its lifespan.

The yellow tape is to mark which motor wire actually connected to the incoming power. Being a DC motor, I could switch the two motor wires with no ill effects. The yellow-taped one just happens to be longer in order to reach the input connectors. Also, the amount of lint and dust in the electrical compartment was a fire waiting to happen with the exposed, decayed wires.

The motor controller is removed from the case. This controller requires the round-ended knee lever, which I was fortunate in that it came with the machine. Those levers frequently are lost, and sell online for more than most machines are worth.

The BU7 A motor that came with the machine. I did jury-rig a quick set up to test that the motor  powered up and turned over. It did; but I failed to notice the rotational direction; more on that later.

And just in case technology failed me, I made a hand drawing of the wiring to put away with my notes. And even though I back up my photos religiously, I still like tangible hard copies of some things, thus my diagram:

More disassembly to come in the next post.

1950 Singer 99k - Finished

The 1950 Singer 99k is finally finished. All the moving parts have been removed, cleaned, polished, replaced and now operate properly. The motor and foot controller have been re-wired. And the 'bug-eye' light from hell has been re-wired. So, here you go....

1950 Singer 99k in full working glory.
This isn't a really good picture, but if you compare it to the 'before' shot, she's a beauty!

I can't believe this is the same machine as above. 
And to top it all off, shortly after I finished her (aka "Ann"), I found a 1926 Singer 99 (US made) for $25, complete with all the parts and pieces. I've been feverishly working on "Ruby" and thanks to my new friend Michelle donating a few parts, that machine is now finished. I'll post a complete set of rebuild posts for the 1926 Singer 99. I'm really pleased how both of these machines have turned out. I'll try and have those posts up by the end of the week, before I start on my next projects.

Next on the list: 1914 Singer 66-1 "Red Eye". I've been lusting after a Red-Eye machine for a while, and found one at the right price. Once she's done, I'll place her in the treadle where she can be appreciated on a daily basis.

And as luck would have it, I stumbled upon a 1957 Singer 401A at a yard sale last Friday. Yes, it came home with me; I couldn't help myself. But that machine is fully intended to be refurbished and re-sold. I already have my grandmother's 401, so I don't really need two of them. And then of course, there's the 1951 Centennial Edition Featherweight 221 that found its way to my house as well. Sigh. I swear I'm not addicted, honest.  Well, okay, maybe a little bit. But at least it keeps me busy and out of the refrigerator. Good Lord, candy corn is calling my name.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Still breathing...

Though I haven't written in a while, I am still around. I've mostly been trying to keep myself preoccupied with various projects so as not to worry about the twins all the time. It seems as though that may be a task in futility.

The twins themselves seem to be staying out of trouble, but the rest of that household is in pure chaos. My 20-year old adopted brother, who still lives at home, has 'knocked-up' his girlfriend. In and of itself, not the end of the world...until you find out that the girlfriend is only 13!!! OK. FIRST, my brother knows better. Period. No debating that one. SECOND, what parent in their right mind allows their 13 year-old daughter to a) date, b) date someone 20 years old, and c) be alone with said 20 year-old?????? Now my brother is in jail for statutory rape, the girl is 13 and pregnant (not a t.v. show I want to see) - and who will suffer the most? The innocent, unborn child who has no say so in his/her life. Please God, allow the child to be born healthy and safely, and to be adopted by loving parents.

Now on to a positive note, the twins are working harder in school. I think both of them realize what better lives they would have outside of their current home, and hopefully they are learning that education is part of it. Having spent time with my sisters this summer, and being back in communication with me, they are seeing that life can be so much more than what the have; not just materialistically, but better in every sense of the world. And I know that doesn't necessarily mean better with me, but with anyone who actually cares and puts the boys best interests to the front of the line. I really hope they are allowed to spend Thanksgiving with us (Mom's adult kids). I think the more time they spend with us, especially at big holidays, they will see that families can be loving and functional. From my lips, to God's ears.

On the "Things that keep me Sane" front - I'm working on a few new shirts. Trying to test fit patterns, before I go head-first into sewing too many that don't fit properly. You'd be surprised at how mind-calming sewing can be, even when you stick yourself for the one-hundredth time with a pin! The quilt top is finished, and sandwiched. I can't decide how I want to quilt it - so it has been moved to the "thinking" pile. (That pile never seems to shrink.)

I recently added an embroidery machine to my "herd". I bought it used and have already made a few "gifts" with it. Christmas presents should be easy decisions this year! And with this new machine, I have decided that my machines are breeding. But I did sell one of my vintage machines - a Singer Slant 301. It was (is) a great machine, but needed a new home as I haven't used it in over a year and it needs to be used by someone who loves and appreciates it. I learned that its new owner will use it to teach her grandchildren how to sew, including her grandson. Since my Nana taught me to sew, I thought this would be a perfect use for this machine. And of course, wouldn't you know it....one machine left the house, and then I found another one, for less than a tank of gas less than a week's worth of lunch at Subway. It's another Singer 99 portable, but this one is from 1926 and was complete. It'll need a complete overhaul, with wiring, etc. I'll try and do a better job of chronicling that one.

Until the next post, Peace with you all.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Ok, I'll admit it: I'm a fan of "popera", the genre of music that fuses pop with opera, made famous by Josh Groban and Il Divo. And I'll admit that I like Il Divo as well. In a world where modern musical lyrics are filled with *&^% words in every verse, it is a pleasant experience to listen to something soothing and gentle, both on the ears and also on the soul.

I first heard the popera sound with Josh Groban's hit "You Raise Me Up". It played on the radio while Mom and I were on our way back from one of her chemo treatments. By the end of the song, I was a flood of tears - enough to solve the current mid-west drought. Later that night, I searched iTunes and found Josh's album (is that still the correct term?) and downloaded it in its entirety. I have since played that album over and over, and I hear something different each time I listen (maybe that's because I'm trying to decipher/translate the Spanish/French/Italian lyrics?).

Listening to Josh, led me to Il Divo. Four international men with distinct voices (who look damn good in a well-cut suit/tuxedo). They sing pop songs, with an operatic twist and many of the songs are sung in the Romance languages (S/P/I). Something about their sound resonates in me; especially tenor David Miller's voice. I get all tingly when I hear him sing. To me, it has the same majesty as I would imagine an angel singing in Heaven. The group members have said that their biggest fans are generally "older moms". Well, I hope they aren't offended that this middle-aged man really enjoys their music. And if you like Il Divo, you'll enjoy the Canadian Tenors. I discovered them this week with the wonders of the internet radio and Pandora.
David Miller of Il Divo
Listening to the soothing music of the above artists has been truly beneficial this week while working on my Bachelor Puzzle quilt top. Many times I wanted to pull my greying hair out by handfuls. Out of the 560 individual squares and triangles, maybe half of those lined up properly. Putting the project away on three separate occasions when house guests took over my sewing room didn't help; nor did switching from one of my vintage machines (the 301A) to a modern one (L-500). But, it is assembled. I will machine quilt it with Singer Quantum L-500 - the main reason I bought that machine. I'm still pondering what pattern to use for the actual quilting. In the meantime I've set it aside and moved back into shirt making. I have loads of fabric and ideas for some great holiday shirts. If they are going to be finished in time, I really need to get a move on with those. Maybe I should go listen to some David Miller for inspiration. Ok...enough of that....it sounds eerily like a man-crush!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Progressing on some UFO's

The Singer 99k is finished; I just need to photograph the results. She sews really well with the electric motor, and I didn't get electrocuted! (happy dance, happy dance)  That makes one UFO (Unfinished Finished Object) completed. Too many more to go.

I finally got around to picking up the pieces of my "bachelor quilt" and have made great strides in its progress. These are the three main fabrics I'm using in it and I'm much further along than this picture shows. I'm in the final assembly stage of the third set of blocks. This quilt will definitely be a keeper.
The quilt fabrics
Today, I decided to do some baking in anticipation for the Olympic Opening Ceremony tonight. Nope, these aren't for me; they are for a party this evening. These would definitely catapult me off the wagon! But no worries, I made a low-fat/low-calorie batch without the excess sugar, so all is good and I'm still making healthy choices.

The Gingerbread Athlete is about 2 feet long.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lost in Emotion

I haven't made much more progress on the Singer 99k. It is staring at me, begging to be finished but my mind has been elsewhere the last few days. I received and email from my sister regarding our younger twin brothers. It seems both of them are very unhappy in their current home situation and would like to move out, away from their adoptive father, and to come live with one of us.

I probably need to share a little background information on the twins to make things a little more clear. Romulus and Remus (names changed to protect their identities) will be thirteen in a few weeks; they were just five when Mom lost her battle with cancer and only three when she was diagnosed. Mom had custody of the twins from the day they came home from the hospital; their birth-mother chose Mom not only to be the twins' foster mother, but to be the one to adopt them as well. Mom was highly respected in her local DFACS area and she had built a reputation of being able to do amazing things with troubled children in state care. In fact, throughout my entire life, there was only a short period of one to two years where we did not have a foster child in our home. So when the twins' birth-mother chose Mom to adopt the boys, she and my step-father agreed.

During Mom's battle with kidney cancer, she developed tumors on her spine and had to have them removed. Before she went into the hospital, Mom asked if Michel and I would take and raise the twins should something happen to her. Mom had discussed it with my step-father, and while he wasn't keen on the idea, he agreed.

After much discussion, we agreed to Mom's request and thought that if the time came, we would all be able to adjust, having given as much forethought into the situation as possible. Fortunately the surgery went well, but her recovery was long and rough; and she spent over five weeks in ICU. Mom battled hard and was determined to be home in time for Thanksgiving, under my protest and hesitation from her doctor. I don't know how, but she did it.

Mom's recovery continued at home and I decided to spend all of Christmas with her that year. It was the first and only Christmas that Michel and I have spent apart; and it was to be Mom's last Christmas as well. I can't tell you how much joy I had 'playing' Santa Claus for the twins and the other children. It certainly was a Christmas I will never forget and Mom, being practical, brought up the possibility of Michel and I raising the twins again. I reassured her that we would still gladly take them, but if she kept fighting the cancer with such determination, there would surely be no need for us.

Come summer time, Mom's cancer began to invade her soft tissue. The only treatment option left to her was the Interleukin-2, bad-ass chemotherapy. Her oncologist gave her a less than 5% chance of the treatment working, and that it could be fatal to Mom in her already weakened state. As her only chance of survival, she chose that path and I was right there with her. She brought up the twins' arrangement, and again I assured her that Michel and I would make her proud. I won't go into detail about that last week in the hospital. I've not discussed that with anyone, not even Michel; it's too painful and hurts too much even seven years later. But suffice it to say, Mom did not survive her treatment. On July 5, 2005, Mom lost her hard fought battle at the young age of 55.

After the funeral, with my adult brothers and sisters in tow, I sat down with our step-father to discuss arrangements for the twins, as well as the other minor children. We talked about Mom's request, my intentions on how Michel and I would raise the boys, how we we keep them part of the family - no one would lose touch, how they would attend Church (Catholic, Episcopalian or Lutheran, but not Baptist), etc. He asked that he be given some time and I understood that it was too soon; they all needed time to mourn together; I needed time to mourn.

By Christmas of that year, it became evident that my step-father had no intentions of relinquishing custody. That brought about a very large argument between us, and I freely admit my fault in the situation. The end result being that I was forbade from stepping foot on my mother's land or in my mother's house again; I was threatened with arrest if I did otherwise. Yes, I'm still bitter and angry about that, but much less so than I was six years ago. In the meantime, the step-father has retained custody of all of the children.

I will give him credit as a provider: he has given them shelter, clothing and food, albeit much less that they all required, but they are all still living, relatively healthy and none are currently in juvenile hall, jail, etc. But he has not been and is not a father to any of the children. He failed my mother as a husband, and he has failed those children as a father. (Yes, I'm know - I have a HUGE issues with my mother and his relationship; I have accepted it was her decision to stay with him and I thought I had dropped it completely, until it rose its nasty head with my sister's email.) I am not the only person who sees it this way, but he has undone all of the positive work and effects that Mom had had on those children. Mom and my step-father's friends have made those comments to me, as well as people from her DFACS community. (Remember, it's a small town...a really small town.) But no one (including me), would step in and report him to DFACS; no one there wanted to take on nine kids at once; no one wanted to separate them; and no one (especially me) wanted them back in state custody. I did at one point consult with an attorney to seek legal custody of the boys, but I was advised against it for multiple reasons. One of them being Georgia's anti-gay adoption policies; Mom died without a Will, and left no written instructions of her wishes - my raising of the boys would be seen as 'hearsay'; and the one that bothered me most - I couldn't put the boys through a custody battle. I've seen what custody battles do to children in heterosexual divorces, and I would not do that to Romulus and Remus. They had lost their mother, and at the time I didn't want to take away the only father they had known. So I stepped away and prayed for the best, all the while feeling as though I had let Mom down. I still have twinges of that feeling ever now and again - at holidays, birthdays, etc.

As soon as they turned 18, the two oldest moved out while the step-father wasn't there. He had no clue they were gone until the children told him they had moved out. The middle children, still minors, have dropped out of school, have no jobs and have no direction. One of the girls (I'll call her Grace, to protect her identity) was put into an institution about a year after Mom passed, but they forced her out when she turned 18 a few months ago. Grace is now living back at home with my step-father and the remaining kids. She has been home for less than three months and has attempted suicide twice, swallowing broken glass both times. Grace is currently in the hospital.

And that brings us back to Romulus and Remus. This past month, they spent a few weeks with my sisters and their children. I was able to spend some time with them as well, and it was a joy to see them. My heart ached to hear their stories of how miserable they all were at home and how they all wanted to leave. The older children drove up for a Sunday cookout and shared the same horrible stories. My heart strings began to be pulled in all directions again. A few nights before the boys had to return home, they asked not to go back. Romulus was in tears and Remus asked to come live with me. Since my step-father and I still do not talk, my sisters played mediator and expressed our concerns with him. Whether it was to placate my sisters and the boys, I do not know, but he agreed that when Romulus and Remus turn 14, they can choose where to live and he will agree to it. He has even agreed to put it in writing and is supposedly having a will drawn up expressing it as well. And I have been invited to spend as much time with the boys as I wish. I am planning on doing just that, if for no other reason than to share with them the best part of our mother that they never had a chance to know. (I'm not sure I've been given permission to step foot on the land or in the house yet, so I'll definitely be taking a sister along for the first visit - Momma didn't raise a complete fool.)

Even more amazing to me, my step-father admitted that keeping all nine of the children by himself was a mistake. Again, I'll give him credit for taking responsibility, but I have to ask why wait another year? Do you know how much mental/emotional damage a kid can suffer in a year? Yes, Michel and I will still take them both in a year's time, if that is what they want. We will shower them with all of the love and affection that Mom had intended for them to have. And I admit, this last week has drained me emotionally. Issues I thought were gone and buried are back. I must re-face and put them to rest, once and for all. Honestly, I had hoped to never have to see/hear/talk to my step-father ever again. Spending time with Romulus and Remus, and showing them that life can be better, will hopefully help me to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. (Fat chance - Dad says I'm more like Mom everyday. When it came to the well-being of children, she did not keep her opinions to herself. I suppose that is one of the many reasons DFACS loved her so much!)

I've sat on this post for a few days now, uncertain on publishing it or not. It's not care-free as my most recent posts, and I hope I don't bring anyone down by sharing it. Putting it out here opens it up for discussion with strangers, but may yield new perspectives that Michel and I have pondered. I won't ask for myself, but if any of you would keep Romulus and Remus in your prayers, I would certainly appreciate it.

On a bright note - the boys do need new clothes, and I have a ton of barely used XXL dress shirts that can be cut down and re-purposed as new shirts for both boys. Between the boys, sewing clothes for them, and my vintage sewing machines, I should have loads to write about and to keep my mind busy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Progress Cometh (Singer 99k pt. 2)

Work on the Singer 99k is progressing along quite nicely. When I began work on this machine, I initially thought it had a lot rust on the steel and plated pieces. After soaking those parts in a cleaner/degreaser, it turns out that most of the gunk as old dried oil, dirt and lint! You can see the difference in both the bobbin area and the needle bar area.
Bobbin area before
Bobbin area after.

Looks much better, yes? I was even able to keep the original red felt piece (in the upper right of the photo) that oils the hook as it oscillates!

I'm really beginning to think this 99k was neglected more than it was abused. There is still a small section of the duct tape that I was unable to remove. It really bothers me being there, but because the decal work is in such good condition, I didn't want to risk damaging it. I did slightly damage the black finish near it...sigh. I'm still pleased though. Hopefully with use, the wear of fabric across that area will help erode the residual tape gunk.

I am really pleased with the needle bar section as well. I fully disassemble that area, cleaned all the moving parts and replaced. This was the first time in taking a needle bar out; I was a bit hesitant, as I have read warnings about the difficulty in re-timing the machine when it is completely dismantled. But I've never been one to back down from a challenge.

Needle bar area before
Needle bar area after.

It helped that Singer was kind enough to place timing marks on the long horizontal thread guide bar. Without those, I would have had a much more difficult time of it. You can also see the that the 99k is sitting in its new base. It is an authentic Singer bentwood case, but this one originally had a knee-bar controller. I may add that to it in the future.

And the almost finished product....

Singer 99k, ready to sew (minus the motor)

I did temporarily attach the handwheel and crank from my Singer 128 (that's another post filled with rust and beauty). Let me tell you, this 99k makes one helluva beautiful stitch! Next up, tackling that mess of wiring that I have been putting off until the end. This machine (Ann) was born an electric, and an electric she should remain. Until next time...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Singer 99K Progress

A few weeks ago, this little Singer 99K followed me home. No one else thought she was worth saving, but I could see the 'diamond in the rough'.

When I see or find machines like this 99, in the sad condition it is in, I often wonder about its life story. No, I'm not crazy. Each of the machines I find has a story; certainly it was loved and cherished at one time in its life. I can picture the owner spending countless hours with the machine, working on children's clothes, repairing a hem, or making an extravagant dress for a special occasion. And being that this machine was made in 1950, I feel confident that its previous owner was a woman. So, while I work and tinker on a machine, I get lost in the nostalgia and then I become determined to re-animate as best as I can. (I choose the term 're-animate', because that is what I do - give it new life. I'm not a professional restorer or refurbish-er. I think these old machines should show some of their battle scars.)

And so begins my task of re-animating the Singer 99k. I began by taking pictures...lots of pictures. It doesn't matter how many diagrams and schematics you have, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Photos give me a chance to have a 'before & after', and it lets me know exactly how a piece was sitting in place when it was removed. Diagrams may show you where a piece goes, but they don't always show you how it was positioned.
My initial photographs give the machine the appearance of being not only used, but neglected. Many of the parts that should be bright and shiny look very rusty...not a good sign for a smooth running machine.
Bobbin case and hook assembly
Needle bar & pressure bar assembly
 The bobbin case area appeared to be rusted solid, as did the needle bar area. But the machine would turn over, so hopefully it was only surface rust and not welded together rust. The whitish spot you see on the bobbin case photo is duct tape residue. Tape is bad; duct tape is HORRIBLE! I can only assume the previous owner used it to hold the bobbin cover in place. Those bobbin covers can be tricky to re-install once completely removed. In fact, this machine was missing that piece completely.  Reproduction parts are available, but I prefer an original part. Original parts cost a little more, especially if you have to bid for them. 

That duct tape will be a beast to remove, without damaging the finish underneath. I've removed masking tape and sticky labels before without issue. My initial tests with the duct tape removal have been unfruitful. But, let's get the guts working first before I even worry about the 99's paint finish.  I've also decided to save the wiring replacement until the end. Better to be certain the machine sews, before I waste my time with the motor/light/controller.

More updates to come!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Of All Things, Why Vintage Sewing Machines?

Restoring a vintage sewing machine is truly a labor of love and a time consuming task, as I have quickly discovered over the last several years with each successive machine. I never imagined that such a symbol of domesticity would ever give me such joy as these hefty little beauties seem to provide. My journey into this hobby began with my grandmother's Singer 401A.

I inherited Nana's sewing machine back in 1995 when she passed away. It was her only possession that I truly wanted and fortunately for me, no one else in my family saw any value in the old machine. I don't mean monetary value, though top condition 401's can bring a nice sum of money these days; I mean in sentimental and emotional value, as each time I look at or use that 1950's beige and white machine, I relive some of the happiest memories of my childhood. That machine is priceless to me. I watched her sew and repair many garments on that machine; she patched my favorite pair of jeans where I had worn the seat out, on that machine; Nana taught me to sew on that machine.

Over the years, I have made mostly quilts with the 401, making one for each of my nieces and nephews at their birth. I've patched some clothing, hemmed a lot of pants (being only 5'6", I hem a lot of pants). A couple of years ago, I opened up the sewing cabinet to hem a newly acquired pair of jeans. As I started my project, I noticed the machine didn't quite sound 'right'; she was a little sluggish, and her stitch knobs wouldn't budge. I pushed on and finished my small project, but I was concerned that my grandmother's machine may be on her last leg.

I started searching the internet and joining any/all sewing machine forums I could find. I felt like a vacuum cleaner at one point, sucking in so much information. With my newly found 'knowledge' and printouts of parts charts, wiring diagrams, and an adjuster's manual (thank you Lord for the internet!), I set out to breathe new life into Nana's 1958 Singer 401A - the Slant-O-Matic.

Nana's 1958 Singer 401A Slant-O-Matic

Two weeks and a lot of elbow grease later, Nana's 401 was sewing like new again! I can't tell you how much joy and pride I have in this little beauty! I say little, but even with a cast aluminum body, she still weighs in at about 25 lbs! And I haven't come across a single thing that she can't sew through when using the proper needle. She could certainly handle another round of intense cleaning; 40+ years of cigarette smoke and nicotine definitely take their toll. So now each time I sew with her, I give her a nice clean up afterwards and she shines just a little bit more.

While doing my research to fix and repair my grandmother's machine, I discovered that having a few spare parts on hand might not be a bad idea. After all, this machine hasn't been produced in nearly 50 years and new O.E.M. parts would certainly become harder to find than hen's teeth. One part in particular that I was concerned about given my 401's recent sluggishness was a replacement  for the internal motor. Fortunately, dried, gummy oil had caused her slow responsiveness and not the motor, but having a spare certainly couldn't hurt.

I began scouring my local Craigslist for similar machines and one day a Singer 403 popped up, for a dirt cheap price. The 403A is in essence the same as a 401 with one major exception - the 403 requires external cams (Singer called them Fashion Disks) to be inserted to zig-zag or make fancy stitches; the 401 has the zig-zag built in, as well as multiple other stitches and can use the Fashion Disks also.  I call the owner who it turns out was settling his father's estate; his father had bought the machine new for his mom and it hadn't been used in years. All the parts were there, so I loaded her up and brought her home. After inspection, I realized this machine had seen little to no use, and using my newly acquired knowledge about the 401, I set about servicing the the new-to-me 1959 Singer 403A.

1959 Singer 403A Special

The Singer 403A cleaned up and sewed beautifully, albeit a bit noisier than Nana's 401. I think probably because the 403 had never truly been broken-in.  She became the second machine in my collection and I soon realized just how great these machines are. They were designed to last a lifetime without worries or troubles. They were made in the USA, when workers had pride in the job and in their product, and were made long before built-in obsolescence was commonplace.

I decided then that I wanted more of a challenge and began looking for an out-of-service machine. That next machine just happened to be a Singer 404 - the basic straight-stitch only introductory machine to the Slant 400 series.  That machine had been used hard and put away wet, as it were, having been used in schools to teach and it had obvious signs of abuse.  A few eBay parts later and some touch-up paint later, this bad-boy was ready for another 40+ years of sewing.

1959 Singer 404
And so a new hobby (addiction?) was born...all from the love and adoration of my Nana and her cherished Singer 401A.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Antique/Thrift Shopping (or How a Singer 99k followed me home)

A few Saturdays ago,  Michel, my sister Deana and I went spent the day together and set about antique shopping in some of the north Georgia towns. Deana had been asking me for weeks to go with her, just to spend time together and to help her find some Depression Glass. I was fortunate enough to inherit my mother's Depression Glass (who got if from her mother, her got it from her mother-in-law) and my sister wants to start a collection of her own. So, we set off in search of something yellow, her favorite color.

Our first stop was a veritable treasure trove of glass. You name it, they had it. We found lots of different yellow pieces in more patterns than I can remember. Deana found a few that she liked, but didn't purchase anything, as it was only our first stop and she couldn't commit to a favorite pattern. While we were at that shop, I found a few vintage sewing odds and ends that I thought were neat, but didn't purchase. On the drive to the next stop, a voice in the back of my head said to actively look for sewing paraphernalia. Sometimes I listen to that voice a little too much and passed on to Michel and Deana that I was looking for "Singer" branded items.

The second stop was a typical antiques store - lots of nice things, but at very high prices. We browsed around, with the usual 'just looking' response when asked if we needed help. I always feel bad just 'window shopping'; those store owners need to earn a living just as much as I do and every just browsing customer is a non-paying customer.  But, as we were about to leave, Deana spotted a little green box with 'Singer' on it. The box was full of attachments for a low-shank machine - perfect for my newly acquired Singer Featherweight! The price was less than I could find online and I scooped them up!

The next stop was the mountain city of Ellijay - a place with antique/thrift stores galore! Browsing around the first in a long line of stores, I gravitated towards a wood domed shaped object, knowing its significance as a case for vintage & antique sewing machines.

I opened it up and inside was a Singer 99 sewing machine. The machine was mostly intact, but missing the critical knee bar controller so there was no way to test the electric motor. The wires were in fair shape, and thinking about it, it would not have been safe to try it out; exposed wiring is not something you want to play with. For its condition and missing pieces, the asking price was a little high and I wasn't willing to take the gamble on how much work it would need, given that high asking price. I spent a good twenty  minutes or so pondering the purchase. How badly did I want it? Did I really need another machine? I lost count at eight machines, but what's one more? Right? Right? Well, rationality took over and I passed on this one. There would be others I was certain.

But I didn't leave empty handed. Deana found me this gem, for a decent price and it goes perfectly with my model 27 treadle from 1899 (machine number 3 in my growing collection).

Several more hours of store shopping yielded many interesting finds, but nothing that screamed 'take me home'. Probably not a bad thing for my wallet in the grand scheme of things. On our return trip home, we decided to stop at an recently opened antique/thrift shop near my sister's home. Deana said it was a re purposed Hobby Lobby, so I knew it would have lots and lots of treasures. There were neat things, but again, no 'screamers'. Although, I was certain I would scream personally if I had seen one more sewing machine treadle cabinet with those nice cast iron legs underneath a piece of glass for a decorator table! For me, you might as well take a Tiffany lamp and smash it against a wall. It hurts my soul to see the wonderful machines cast out as trash and destroyed. Oh the stories they could tell if only they could speak. How many hours of hard labor had each of them seen under the tender hands of their owners? Maybe that is the root of my hidden desire to restore every forsaken machine I come across. Those machines were designed to last a lifetime, many of them have done so with proper care and maintenance; some of them multiple lifetimes.

And so, at this last store of the day, this little forgotten treasure came home with me.
I wasn't going to purchase this machine; it is electric and needs a complete re-wire. That isn't beyond my skill level, but not something I had on my 'to do' list, as it were.  But through the use of modern technology (thank you Android and 4G!), we ran the serial number and according to Singer, this machine was allotted on January 5, 1950. Which in non-collector speak, means this machine was manufactured sometime between January 5 through July 27, 1950 (the next allotment for this model). Why is that important? Well, to a Singer Collector, there is no significance to that particular date; nothing unusual about the machine to make it extraordinarily collectible.  But to me, to me it has meaning. Mom was born in February 1950. This little machine and woman I treasured could very well share the same birthday. Though that I could, I know I can't bring Mom back. But, I could breathe new life into this little machine. Michel saw the gleam in my eye as we discussed the machine's 'birth date'. He knew what its significance meant to me.

Michel bought this little gem for me. Not only because it reminded me of Mom (though she never really sewed), but also because I think he gets a bit joy from watching my excitement as I bring one of these little babies back from the brink of death.  I've been busy working on her since we brought her home. Yes, this machine is a 'her', and her name is Ann. As I progress, I'll post photos so you can see Ann's rebirth. I can't wait to sew with her; perhaps Ann's first project will be a sundress for the grand-daughter her namesake never had a chance to meet.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Time Flies

It's hard to believe so much time has passed since I last made posting. So many things have changed, some good and some bad, that at times I've felt a bit overwhelmed. I hope to add all of the changes here eventually.  The most significant change - I have achieved my weight goal of the mid-160's! That makes a total weight loss of about 90 pounds, and a helluva lot of work to do it! What has been harder? Making certain I don't fall back into old, bad habits. And so far, so good. I've held the same weight now within a few pounds up/down since Christmas - that in itself is an accomplishment for me. And a good by-product: this summer heat isn't bothering me at all; at least not yet!

Here's a recent photo of me with my sweet, dear sisters.
Deana, me, and Dana