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!