Wednesday, February 20, 2008

another oldie but goody (part III)

At last! No? Yes. I won't claim that this post will prove to be worth the time lag since part I and part II, or even since its most recent delay, from Monday to today, but I can say I've picked up more knowledge about vintage machines, which I wouldn't have had to share had it not taken me this long! For every cloud, a silver lining (or, a glittery excuse).

For this, my final comment on vintage sewing machines (don't quote me), what important information is left to communicate? A few things.

The real honest-to-goodness reason I wound up with Blanche is that I have no self-restraint. NO, c'mon! That's the reason I wound up with Rilla, not Blanche. I bought Blanche because I wanted an all-in-one vintage machine. My Featherweight, Rosie, isn't powerful enough to sew the heavier materials I tend toward. Rilla can do that job, but doesn't zigzag. If charged with zigzagging on one machine, then setting up another to work the rest of a project, the project wouldn't be very likely to get done. I found myself dreading that process on more than a few occasions, so I knew what I had to do. I went in search of a zigzag machine, but by the time I did, I'd finally caught the hint that a checklist would serve me better than my usual strategy, which was to go Hey! That's cute! or Wow! That's cheap! then buy the machine and bring it home. I've mentioned before that I live in a tiny apartment. As of today, I own four sewing machines. Five sewing machines + tiny apartment = Crazy Sewing Machine Lady. (Some would argue that I'm already there.) It was of paramount importance that the zigzag machine do all the sewing tasks I'm likely to undertake, because it had to be my last machine (until I move into a bigger space, just to, uh-ruh, keep it real). It might seem like I went off all willy-nilly and reappeared with a machine, but what really happened leads to something important:
  • Machine selection. The aforementioned checklist. My friend, er, friends -- Hello? Is this thing on? -- the land of vintage sewing machines is a deep, murky forest with magic trees that bear golden fruit -- if you know how to find them. If not, you'll wind up lost in the murk, looking for somebody's old moldy breadcrumbs so you can find your way out. The fastest, least expensive route to the fruit is to make up a list of the things you want your vintage machine to do. Because today's computerized models can do everything but juice oranges, it's reasonable to think of vintage machines as having more or less the same limited capabilities. This is not the case. There isn't much that today's machines can do that vintage machines can't, but just like with new machines, you have to shop for them according to your individual sewing needs. With Blanche, I wanted a heavier-duty zigzag machine, but I also wanted feed-dogs that dropped so that I could quilt, decorative stitches, and automatic buttonholes. You can save yourself lots of time and money by knowing your requirements. There is a massive number of beautiful vintage sewing machines, in mint or near mint condition, to be found. Aesthetically speaking, today's machines aren't much, so no one would blame you if you fell head over heels for a vintage machine based on looks alone. Before you take that pretty boy home, have your checklist handy and make sure it will do what you need it to. Don't do this, and you're likely to wind up in the Crazy Sewing Machine Lady Club with some people we know.
  • Ready availability of peripherals. Alright. So. You've got your hot little checklist in hand. You know your musts for a vintage machine. You're looking on the cheap and dirty -- at garage sales, Salvation Army stores, Craigslist. Maybe you're even looking on your local Freecycle. The cheaper the better, right? Well, I've learned since Part II of this here series, not necessarily. It might be pay now or pay later. If you get a machine that doesn't have a manual, or accessories (presser feet, cams, etc), you'll have to go in search of. If your machine isn't a popular brand, or one that is still being manufactured, you'll have to spend extra time hunting for things you may need for it, and you may never find them. Even if you do select a major-brand machine, it's wise to take the model under consideration. In their day, some models, like the Featherweight, were highly popular, while others languished in obscurity. Major-brand models that languished in obscurity tend to have less available information, so when you try to figure out, say, whether your machine takes high or low shank presser feet, or if there are cams floating around anywhere, it can be hard, if not impossible, to find answers (except, of course, by trial and error, which equals money -- pay now or pay later). The trick with less popular models is to get them as cheaply as possible, but with as many peripherals as you think you're going to want. I posit that if an off-brand/obscure model machine doesn't come with most of what you need, it might be better to leave it for someone who knows how to make that part fit there and jimmy this mechanism here. There is always another great vintage machine waiting around the corner (sometimes literally).
I had settled on the Kenmore brand when I went looking this last time. Even when I am not planning to buy on eBay, I start there because of the wealth of information. (On the 'bay, I did get distracted by sparkly no-name vintage machines that were going cheaply, but quickly clicked away because those are the ones that usually come with nary a manual, attachment, or any extras at all.) Reading through the listings gives a good idea of more prevalent model numbers. You can always tell them. They're the ones people tend to bid on most. What I did once I found a few models that matched up with my checklist was mosey on over to the vintage Kenmore Yahoo Group and search the model numbers to find out if people had problems with any of them, or if people were getting good use out of them. None of this took as long as it might seem, and not nearly as long as I thought it would. Before I knew it, model 158.148 (Blanche) came up on Craigslist. I wasn't familiar with this model number, but the listing told me two things: The machine was being sold by a sewer, someone who knew what she was talking about; and, the machine would do the things I wanted a machine to do. When I went to search the model number on the Yahoo site, I didn't have to look far. The 158.148 -- 48, for short -- is the same model that's featured on the Yahoo group's homepage. My search yielded a decent amount of info, mostly singing the machine's praises. That, ladies and ladies (if there is even one guy reading this post speak now and I will send you a prize! Uh-huh. Didn't think so. Men don't know what they're missing with this crafty stuff), is why I bused it out to Santa Monica like I did.

An aside. Nik asked how I got the machine home. At the time, I was still in the walking boot, and I didn't have a car (still don't, yet). I did it via the kindness of a friend, the seller, and my building manager. Natalie and I had an evening at the UCC planned. It's in Santa Monica. I asked her, and she kindly agreed that we could stop and pick up the machine on the way. When I called the seller and told her what time we'd be by, she said she and her family had an outing, but they'd be happy to drop the machine at the UCC afterward. They did, and they were so cute. The whole family of four, including their little son and toddler daughter, delivered the machine. When Natalie dropped me home, Bubs wasn't here, so I tracked down my building manager, and he carried the 40-pound machine/table combo upstairs for me. (I get high with a little help from my friends.)

Whew. Just a couple more things, eleventy-hundred pictures, then margaritas for everyone! (They'll be tasty, but virtual.)

I want to share some visuals on cleaning a machine once you get it home. Chances are you'll end up with something that needs a good going over, even if it had sentimental value to its previous owner, as was the case with Blanche. This machine had been serviced roughly four years ago, but I don't think it had seen much action since. It wasn't as dirty as Rilla, but it definitely needed to meet the business end of an air can. I'll mostly let the photos speak for themselves.

Rules of engagement:

Cleaning/oiling kit:

Dirty bits:


This part gave me fits. When I removed the bobbin case and the shuttle race cover (the ring in the next photo), the shuttle itself plopped out. I can put things back together, provided I see exactly where they come from. Sometimes I take a picture as a visual aid. I panicked when the shuttle made its debut, because the photo in the manual doesn't make obvious how to put the darn thing back in. I fiddled with it for a while. Gave up. Watched TV. Fiddled some more. Finally figured it out.

The only mechanical issue with the machine was that the feed dog button was stuck, which meant the feed dogs wouldn't drop, which meant one of my requirements wasn't met, which meant I had to get busy fixin'. When parts are stuck on these old machines, about 95% of the time, oil can free them up.

Alright! Home base is in sight, baby. The last thing I want to say about vintage machines is that sewing on them is an experience unto itself. All this finding the right one, bringing it home, checking it over and cleaning it, securing manuals and accessories for it -- there is work involved. But take my word, sewers do all this, sometimes many times over, for one reason -- an amazing sewing experience. I've got a lot of love for my first machine, my Brother, because it was easy to start on and does its job well. I wouldn't part with it, and I intend to keep using it. But my vintage machines are a sewing experience, hokey as that might sound. They're solid, so they don't travel while I'm sewing, they're lovely to gaze at, they're powerful, and they make gorgeous, perfect stitches. They're easy to use, and they have me convinced that I'm smarter than I probably am because I can clean and fix them myself. They're like fine classic cars, they are.

Sewing on them will put you in the zone, make you feel like you're driving along the PCH in a vintage car commercial. Like you're right here.


yaiAnn said...

Oh I hate you.. now I want a vintage machine especially because my dang machine now with it's fancy circuits and all that won't make me one single buttonhole! hrmph!

Adrienne said...

WOW, now you have me wanting a vintage machine!

Ellen Bloom said...

Forget about this English teacher job! I see a career for you in sewing machine maintenance!!! You can name your hours, get deals on great machines and have the satisfaction of keeping those old classics in perfect purring order!

Anonymous said...

O*M*G*, this is too cute! You had photographed the entire process of bonding with (cleaning is bonding too) your machine! Pity you didn't take some pics of your Build.Manager taking it up the

I am in awe of your pictures, truly. I don't have your 'touch' or 'eye' but maybe if I can get a camera like yours my pictures will be half as good!

What's self-restraint?

Oh sappmama, don't go down that collecting slope....I can only warn you...LOL and enable you, like in this one:

I don't even know where you are but just for eye-candy will sew through everything...I'm just saying...

Your Blanche is beautiful, just look at her innards! In perfect condition too. I must say it didn't take long for you to learn the tricks of the collecting 'trade'. You went to all the right sources...well done!

There is a writer in there you know! What are you waiting for?


Anonymous said...

Sappmama, here is a high shank walking foot. I noticed that they make the same/similar walking foot with the serial number RWA5 (I think it was) and that model is for straight stitching only. The model I am linking you to is on Shoppers Rule....remember that site? This walking foot seems to be for zz too but I cannot vouch for it.


sappmama said...

Heather, it was too much, b/c my manager is pretty skinny! I warned him it was heavy, but he insisted it wasn't too bad. By the time we reached the apt, he was quite winded.

Goodness! That Necchi. I'm not sure how far its location is from me, but I stopped myself from using Mapquest to find out! It looks like such a nice machine. I won't turn down any eye candy you send my way.

Thank you for the compliment on my pictures! I do enjoy taking them. My camera is a nice, but basic, Canon A510. I think they still make them.

Glad to have confirmation from an established addict, er, collector -- LOL! -- that I'm on to the hot sources. It's been really fun figuring how where/how to get info and support.

Speaking of which, I did get the walking foot. I saw one on eBay from a seller called stitchesintime, who happens to be in a couple of my Yahoo groups, so I e-mailed her and asked if she thought the foot would fit my machine. She was almost sure it would. I got it yesterday, and it does. It's an Alphasew RWA2.

The writing -- I'm working on settling some things so I can really get down to it. One of these days! And thank you for saying that, my friend. It's very encouraging.