Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The M-I-L Quilt

Last month, I finally finished a quilt for my mother-in-law. Mind you, this quilt has been in the works for quite some time. I purchased the fabric three years ago this past Spring, with the intention of making and of giving the quilt to her for Christmas that year. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Back in March, I pulled the fabric out of my storage bin and began working on this quilt to present to her for Mother's Day. One week beforehand, the top was mostly finished, and after cutting the final pieces per the written instructions, I discovered I was 3.5" x 13" too short to complete the quilt top. Damn!

This particular quilt top was designed to use just three (3) yards of fabric, to minimize waste and facilitate the ease of constructing it. I had followed the instructions to the letter, cut each fabric as described and yet I was still short of fabric. Why you ask? Well, I quickly discovered that the designer had intended the long vertical pieces to be stitched together butted up against one another, right side to right side, one on top of the other. And if I had joined those strips in that manner, I would not have had any shortages.  But, I have been taught that to strengthen such long, narrow pieces, one should stitch them on a diagonal or miter to help minimize wear and stress on those seams.

So, what to do? There was no way to find the exact same fabric three years later. I had to scramble and find a close match, and rip out and re-sew the entire outside border, and then use that same fabric for the binding. To the average person, they will never see the difference. To me, and I'm certain to other quilters, it will be noticed. (That's Michel peeking out, like Wilson from "Home Improvement".)

I haven't mastered free-motion quilting, so
it's all straight line for now.
But alas, it is finished, and it looks pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. And it is the first quilt top I've made where ALL of the corners aligned properly and squarely. I attribute that to the machine - a 1947 Singer 201K that I picked up in the Spring. The entire quilt was pieced, quilted, and partially bound on this machine (I plan on featuring it in a post, just give me time). Even though the quilt design is simple, I am truly proud of the finished product and enjoyed making it, fabric shortage notwithstanding. I certainly hope MIL enjoys it as well. She lives on the Florida coast, and tends to be a bit cold natured in the wintertime. This should suit her nicely.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Going Foreign, or How a Swiss-Made Bernina Joined Our Home

Thursday morning, shortly after I arrived at work, my boss' wife came into my office area to show me a classified ad for a local estate sale listing various "sewing machines and items".  My boss' wife is my second biggest enabler, with Michel being the other.  So, as soon as someone else was in the office, she and I headed out to the sale.

For the most part, the sale was a bust. I wouldn't classify the items they had as "junk", as there were some good items. But those good items were priced at nearly full retail, which to me, defeats the purpose of garage/estate sales - to move things out quickly while making a buck or two. In the garage area, I found the sewing items mentioned in the ad. One was a modern plastic Singer. That one I immediately passed on.

The next machine caught my eye. I knew it wasn't a vintage Singer, but I wasn't certain what it was until closer inspection. It was a vintage Bernina Record 730. I looked it over and other than being filthy, it appeared in good shape with lots of accessories, original manual, case and there was even a sewing table that appeared made for it (sold separately, of course).

1969 Bernina Record 730

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about Bernina sewing machines, other than they are Swiss made (or were) and that they are considered Top-of the-Line sewing machines and have been for a long time.  My only experience with Bernina has been with the recent acquisition of a Bernette serger; an excellent stitching, excellently well built serger and which has forced my Kenmore serger into retirement (or at least storage).

I also know that they are very expensive sewing machines and most are generally out of my comfortable price range. The price listed for this estate sale Bernina 730 didn't appear off base, but it was more than I've paid for any machine at an estate/garage sale. I decided to pass on it - too much of a personal unknown for my comfort.

I went back to the office, but something about the Bernina kept tugging at the back of my mind. I began doing some research and decided that I should have bought it. Regret set in and by the end of the day, I knew someone else had probably purchased the machine. I told Michel about it when he got home, and he convinced me to go back to the sale on Friday morning and get the machine if it were still there. I slept on it and Friday morning I had decided to hold to my guns and let the Bernina go; I just didn't know enough about Bernina's, even vintage ones.

But Saturday morning, Michel wanted to go antique shopping and while we were going to be out, he convinced me to go back to the estate sale. (Like I had a choice, he was driving after all.) So, we drove out to the sale and the machine was still there, and priced half off. At that price, I had to buy it. I figured from the research I had done, at the very least I could part the machine out and get my money back. I packed it all, paid for it, loaded it into the car.

When we got home later Saturday evening, I set out to start cleaning up the Bernina. Taking the load off the motor, I plugged it up and tested it. The motor spun right up, no issue there. I re-engaged the stop motion clutch and turned the machine over by hand. Tight. SUPER tight. I pulled out the manual and began oiling in all the proper locations. With the manual, there was a service tag where the machine had been serviced by the local store (still in business) back in 1986. Yes, this machine is going to need some TLC.
Mostly cleaned up - It has a 75 Jahre badge on it. Does this
make it special?
I let the oil begin to do its job and I continued on to cleaning up the machine. It's amazing what a rag with warm water will wash away. After the first round of cleaning, I tried turning the machine by hand again. Much easier and smoother until it hit one spot. I assumed it needed more oil so I began looking for the sticky spot. I moved the stitch selection lever through its paces, tried the zigzag....no left-to-right needle movement. But I could move it manually. I scanned through the operator's manual on how to set the machine; nope, still no zigzag. I dug in deeper...and there it was - a cracked and busted cam gear. Damn, not what I wanted to see.
When this section of the cam gear meets the lower worm gear,
the machine becomes extremely tight and nearly impossible
to turn by hand. It will need to be replaced.
I quickly googled 'Bernina cam stack gear' and learned it was not uncommon for this particular gear to crack or break. It is made of nylon, and as I know from 1960s and 1970s model Singers, nylon gears wear out over the years. Decision time. After researching the price of the gear, and what it would take to replace it, and looking at the prices and praises of fully functional Record 730 machines, I have decided the machine is worth repairing.

While I am at it, I will replace the drive belts. They are still intact and functional, but they are dry and brittle and in time, they will break. Once the gear and the belts arrive, I will chronicle replacing the cam stack gear. This will be a challenge for me on two fronts: one, I know vintage Singers, not vintage Berninas; two, I generally work on straight stitch machines, not zigzags. The few Singer zigzag machines I have serviced have never needed repair in their internal ZZ mechanisms, so this Bernina will present me with several new firsts. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Bright Spot to the Day

On the way home from the grocery store yesterday, I passed a young girl who was selling lemonade from her front yard 'stand'. I gave a cursory glance, smiled and drove on by. About three blocks down the road, I turned around. In fact, I turned around in a church parking lot - the same church were I always see some of the most uplifting Bible quotes and verses on a placard out front (they are always filled with Hope, never Fire & Brimstone). I turned the car around, and went back to the young girl's lemonade stand, and bought a lemonade. I don't know why, but I did. She was maybe 12 or 13 and the most polite young lady I've met in a while. I felt good afterwards and the lemonade was freshly squeezed and quite delicious! I thanked her and went home and charged through a clarinet lesson, beaming from the inside out.

I've been in a great mood since; I woke up on time and in a good mood. If she's there again today on my way home, I'll stop and buy another lemonade; and as long as she's out voluntarily working in the late afternoon heat, and still smiling about it, I'll crack open my penny jar to support her enterprise. I don't know if my single dollar made any difference to her, but that young lady certainly made a difference in my day, or better yet, in my week. Young people such as her remind me that not all is lost in America.

So, if you see a kid with lemonade stand - my advice to you: don't drive on by, but rather stop. It could just be what you 'really' thirst for. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Garage Sale Day

Cruising my local Craigslist this morning, always in search of those key words "vintage sewing machine", I came across two estate sales listings which mentioned vintage sewing and both were a short drive from my office. My colleagues at work know how I am when I see those magic words - I get sort of a glazed look over my eyes and before I had a chance to ask permission to take an early lunch, they were pushing me out the door.

The first Estate Sale Ad mentioned that both parents had recently been moved into an assisted living home. The children were conducting the sale, and right from the start I picked up on the fact that were truly dreading what they were doing. I can sympathize - disposing of a loved one's possessions isn't easy, especially if there are emotional attachments involved. We exchanged pleasantries and I began perusing over the items on display. When I had decided there was nothing there for me, next to a vintage Necchi sewing machine, I literally stumbled upon my find of the day - sitting in a computer box on the floor, an older Bernette serger. No prices were listed, so I inquired about it and the nice lady said $80. I pondered, pulled out my iPhone, Googled / eBayed and decided that the asking price was fair. I looked around the room for a manual and accessories, but none were available. I mentioned the missing items to the owner, and I don't generally try to haggle, but in this instance I offered a lower number. She accepted and I packed the little tank of a machine into the trunk of my car.

Bernette 334D Serger - my model, but not my machine.
My photos to come later.

Now, having bought one machine today, I certainly should have returned to work immediately and called it a successful day. But, nope, not me. Curiosity had gotten the better of me. I proceeded to the next Estate Sale. This second estate sale was packed with cars, which generally means I am too late to find anything good. This sale was run by a family friend, with no attachments to any of the items, and all the items were priced in true 'garage sale' fashion, i.e. 'we want it gone, and gone quickly'. In the main room was a huge selection of vintage linens - tablecloths, napkins and such. Those quickly jumped into my outstretched arms. And three rooms later, I found the sewing room. In a beautiful desk was an early 1970s New Home sewing machine. If that desk could have properly held any of my Singers without major modification, I would have found a way to get it home. It truly was a nice piece of furniture. Other than that machine, only a few notions here and there were to be found, and at nickel, dime and quarter pricing, I added to my armful.

Meanwhile, another shopper overhead my conversation with the sweet older lady who was tending to that area of the sale. I made mention of Vintage Singers and you'd have thought I mentioned free money! She asked if I used or worked on Featherweights. I mentioned my growing collection and a new friend was made! We exchanged numbers and I look forward to hearing from her soon.

On my way out, I stopped by a bedroom. Many clothes and costume jewelry were laid out for sale. My first thoughts were of Peter over at Male Pattern Boldness and his cousin Cathy. So, taking inspiration from Peter, I looked around here and there and in that room, a lovely Mink collar found found its way into my arms, as did an assortment of buttons - both of which will be perfect accents for this year's Halloween costume. (That post will come much later - I'm still planning.) So, a BIG Thank You Peter Lappin for teaching me to keep my eyes open! As for the New Home machine, it stayed behind waiting for another sewing-related crazy person to come along.

As soon as I have Bern(ad)ette cleaned up and stitching, I'll post pictures of her. Yes, I named her already. Bernadette seemed fitting.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

1926 Singer 99 - Part 4 - Putting it Back Together - OR, Better Late than Never

With all of the disassembly and cleaning now finished, it's time for my favorite part of restoring this old sewing machines - putting it back together and making it sew like it should. If all goes well, this 1926 Singer 99 should sew as well, or better than the day it was made.

I begin my reassembly in the opposite order that I take things apart. And I often refer back to my 'before' photos, to double check myself as I go along. I also refer back to any notes I took during the tear down - the position of concentric screws or nuts; position of the hook in relation to the needle, etc. These things give me a good starting point when it comes to properly timing the machine.

In the case of this Singer 99, I begin the reassembly by replacing the Feed Forked Connection and Stitch Regulator assembly in the pillar of the machine. As I mentioned in Part 2, the working space inside the pillar is very small on a 3/4-sized machine. Patience here is a must; it is very easy to become frustrated when parts don't stay in place while you are trying to secure them down. Magnetic tools help in this aspect, thought they can also be a hindrance if the magnet is too strong, such as sticking to the machine head instead of the part you are working on.

Feed Forked Connection, Stitch Regulator Screw and assembly.
The Connection Roller is already back in place here on the
Connection arm.
Before re-inserting the parts, I like to make certain everything is well oiled. I use TriFlow Oil to do this, and I especially saturate the Feed Forked Connection Roller. This roller or 'wheel' glides back and forth along the guide that controls the stitch length while sewing. Once it begins to gum up, it makes adjusting the regulator knob a beast in the future. Make note that this is one of those spots that should be oiled regularly. Once the assembly is back in place on the machine head, I like to oil the Regulator Screw threads with TriFlow as well, and I will turn the Regulator in its full range of motion multiple times to make certain it operates freely and smoothly.

Next comes the bottom-end of the machine. It is straight forward if you follow your 'before' photographs. Having so few parts, and being simplistic in their operation are the just a few of the reasons that I like these vintage machines. Less moving parts equal less parts to wear out and break. When replacing the Rocker Cones on the Feed Rock Shaft, I like to tighten them snugly, and then back off about 1/8th a turn so the mechanism moves freely. I snug fit the lock nuts, and make final adjustments once all the pieces to the machine are back in place.

Replace with "After" photo; show adjusting screw for feed dog forward/back.
With the Feed Rock Shaft and the Oscillating Hook Pitman (hook drive arm) back in place, it's time to concentrate on reassebling the Hook Assembly. Before putting the hook and feed assembly back together, be certain to oil the rollers on both the Feed Bar and Feed Raising Bar that I pointed out here and here. Coating them in TriFlow until they turn smoothly and freely will keep them operation smoothly. Once the moving parts are back in place, it should look like this:

I put the hook back into position, and try to place it as close to the proper position as possible. At this point, it is merely guesswork, as I have not yet re-installed the needle-bar which is needed to gauge proper placement of the hook. For a much more detailed look and instructions as to how the lower hook area goes back together, I would recommend you visit the Tools for Self Reliance website (TFSR). They are an incredible resource for refurbishing vintage machines.

With the lower bobbin area parts back in the proper place (but not yet properly timed), I begin the reassembly of the needle-bar area. Just like the other parts, I backtrack and replace in the reverse order that I removed the parts.
The bare needle-bar area. Here, I've already
replaced the Tension Disc Lever and its
retaining pin.

When all the parts are back in place, it should look like this:
Everything is clean, back in its proper place,
and ready to set the timing.
Now, we're ready to time the machine. Most Singer 99 machines have either one of two timing gauges built into the needle-bar area; the first was seen here on the 99k. The second gauge involves a bushing with a finger pointing upward, and two marks on the needle-bar connecting stud. This particular Singer 99 had neither, so I had to 'play it by sight'. And again, for a much better description, I will refer you to the TFSR website on complete timing instructions. Once I set the timing (following the TFSR instructions), I thread up the machine and turn it over by hand, to visually see that the hook does indeed catch the upper thread loop as it should. If it looks correct, I'll continue on with the re-build. (Quick tip - a larger spoked handwheel from another 99, 66, 127 or 128 works great to easily operate the machine while it is still under construction.)
The bobbin area cleaned, in place, and almost ready to sew.
Re-attach the feed dogs with the needle plate in place. You'll need to use the plate to see how far to adjust that concentric crew on the Feed Rocker Arm I mentioned earlier.You want the feed dogs to rise just behind their opening in the plate, and lower at about the same distance from the rear opening, without touching the needle plate fore or aft. If it does touch, you'll need to adjust it so that it does not, otherwise it will cause a feed binding and can cause unnecessary damage to the feed dogs and needle plate as well.
The leading edge of the feed dogs should rise just inside
their needle plate opening.
With the feed dogs set front to back, it's now time to set their height. The top most point of the feed dog teeth should be about 3/64ths of an inch (or about 0.005") above the needle place when at their highest extension. I find that having a feeler gauge is very helpful here.

Now that the feed dogs are in their proper position, and the machine is properly timed, all that is left to do is reattach the faceplate, bobbin winder mechanism and the handwheel. Sit the machine either in its stand or case and make a few test stitches. You may need to adjust either the top, bobbin, or both tensions. I like to test the bobbin tension by gently tugging on the thread, so that if flows freely with just minor resistance. This allows me to have a greater flexibility in tension adjustment should I need it down the road. On this Singer 99, there is no numbered dial for the upper tension, so I start out very loose, and adjust until the stitch looks correct to me. After some adjustments to both tensions, time to stitch away!

Once the tensions are set, the rebuild or refurbishment of the mechanics is complete! All we have left to do now is tackle the electrics. The electrics include the motor, the motor controller and the light. On this particular machine, the motor controller is actually operated by a knee bar, and not a foot controller, but their operation is very much the same (provided you are using an original Singer controller for your machine). I'll cover the electrics in the final post on this Singer 99.

*Edit - this machine has since been sold while this post was sitting in my 'draft' folder. BUT, I have acquired another Singer 99 which is in need of rewiring. It's kneebar controller is missing, so I will convert it to a traditional foot controller and I will cover the wiring aspect with the refurbishment of that machine.

I have a blog??

Yes, yes, I'm still alive and I'm still 'here'. I haven't fallen off of the face of the Earth or cocooned away to some cubby hole in the darkest corners of the universe. The simple fact is that I generally only write when I'm inspired, troubled and sorting through things, or really enthusiastic about sharing my hobbies. I have been busy with the hobbies since my last post.

Since my last posting, finished projects include: a Halloween costume; a Singer Featherweight (two of them); a few more vintage Singers; a Gingerbread house or three; a quilt; planning this year's costume for Halloween; planning the next quilt and planning this year's Gingerbread!  Oh, and throw in a trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon for a week. And did I mentioned I acquired an embroidery machine and have taken that up? Good grief, I need more hours in a day! AND, I'm exhausted thinking about it! The very positive side: it keeps me out of the fridge and I don't snack out of boredom!

Also in the midst of all of my creative fun, I've picked up a war/strategy game on my iPad. Some days, it takes up entirely too much of my time. But I have 'met' some very nice people from the game. One such friend, even though on the other side of the planet, has been a positive force of enthusiasm and support for my hobbies and creativeness. I will refer to her here by her screen name of Aphrodite going forward. And her screen name is appropriate - she is both beautiful inside and outside. And it is due to her encouragement that I am picking up this blog again and I intend on posting as each new project is completed - whether it be sewing, quilting, embroidery, or a machine restoration. This keeps me writing and it allows me to share with her the fruits of my creative passion.