August 4, 2017

DIY Vintage Sewing Machine Base

Here is my tried and true method for vintage machine bases.

If you are not experienced with woodworking this will be hard to follow.

I'm and old Draftsman and this is how we work.

The result is not up to woodworking standards but is acceptable and easy.
It is a one hour project not including the three cotes of finish

Every machine is slightly different under the edge of the casting and this design method will likely require some chiseling or knifing of the edge where the casting interferes with the new base.

The handle holes are nice and should be put in before you assemble the parts.

At the lumber yard you'll need a 1 x 3 x 6 foot piece of Poplar (don't use better if you are inexperienced) and don't use Pine.

A 1 x 3 has actual dimensions of 3/4" x 2-1/2 or 0.75" x 2.5"... perfect for our job

The 2-1/2" should get every machine out there just high enough so that the casting feet are nicely clear of the table, (except for the Singers 101 and the 201, they need a full 3")

Draw this out on a piece of graph paper as shown
Assume you are going to triple check every dimension and go ahead and make a cardboard cut-out of the plan view to check the fit.

No amount of extra drafting, drawing, measuring, and thinking, will go to waste for this project, but you know this if you make patterns for sewing.

To Start:

  • Measure the length and width of your flat-bed

  • The inside of your wooden base is between 1/2" and 3/8" LESS THAN these two dimensions

  • On your drawing mark these two dimensions everything is based on these two dimensions

  • For the Front Piece you add 3/4 + 3/4 +  Inside Length

  • For the Back Piece the length IS the Inside Length

  • For the Sides you add 3/4 + Inside Width

  • The result is a minimum of end grain showing without getting into complex joinery

  • Glue and nail, screws are so big they will require wood plugs.
  • Check for squareness (measure across corners) if its not square tap, squeeze, or push till it is. If you don't it'll dry out of square and you will be very sorry. 

  • Bevel and sand all the edges and finish; I use three coats of Minwax water based Polycrylic, one to lift the grain and two to finish it. Sand 120 then 220, and 220 between coats. 


To mount the machine I use 4 dollops of clear silicone sealer so you can lift the machine either the by the head or by the base.

FYI the design changes if you have to lift the machine to change the bobbin like the Vigorelli

The only difference is to add a second Back Piece, lengthen the Sides 3/4" and (this is the hard part) locate and countersink the hinges from a cabinet. 

August 3, 2017

Capital Window-Matic (Brother 1950s)

The team at Brother way back then must have been quite something. Like any product manufacturing company on the rise they had a mission and by the 60s had become a premier maker of machines.

Finally we get some styling and the beginnings of some more considered HMI added to the machine. HMI is Human Machine Interface and in this case the super vague 15-91 style froward - reverse lever in replaced with the classic Brother window gauge.

Another outstanding 15-91 machine could sum it up because that is all it is. Manufacturing guys really like making what they made yesterday and so the incremental changes we see in the Japanese imports are minuscule and usually very well executed.

Another "all metal parts off" restore that went pretty smooth but the stamped, masked, and painted logo did not go into the SuperClean, the paint that is used in these masking operations is vary thin and comes off with a single dip into a high level cleaner. I use Pine-Sol and a tooth brush.

A close up of the window system, not easy at all to reassemble, don't do it if you are not competent in repairs. The dial does what you think; it moves the needle and changes the stitch length BUT it only pushes the 15-9 style lever up and cannot push it down (you'll see when you try it) again, its a very early attempt at improving the system.

I'll say here that "all metal parts off" restore is NOT for the newbie, you will end up with a pile of parts that a machine you can't use. If you have no experience with machine repair then I suggest you start out very slow and do not willy-nilly disassemble anything.

The reason that I do "all metal parts off" is because I really get annoyed at the little edge of oil grime between the metal parts and the painted casting; this is so difficult to get at that the only way is to remove parts, though you don't have to. Removal also makes the cleanup of those parts easy, the trade-off is the reassembly know-how and lots of time.

Universal Sewing Machine (1950s) Clone

Another 15-91 clone and a damn good one.

As you may have discovered some of us really like the "Clones Age" machines from Japan.

Its that free wheeling, noiseless, hand cranking that gets to you. And too the outstanding leather ability of these machines.

This one is in pretty happy shape, I traded it for a machine I was so tired of, and now I have an inexpensive machine to pass along to a newbie.
It was a complete "all metal parts off" restore, and again I take them off and drop them into a tall covered jar of SuperClean over night, remember any paint on these parts will come off so don't do this with your 1970s Singers. Most of the parts come out so clean that you just rinse them off dry them, (you need an air compressor) oil and reinstall.

The real time consumer is the tension disc, spring reset, and test sewing, plan on an hour.

So the whole process is usually about 4 hours.

July 5, 2017

Kenmore 385 "30 Stitch"

The Kenmore 385.1884180 is a Janome made machine with their outstanding rotary hook system, I am very impressed with this machine; wish I had stumbled across them earlier.

It is a: durable, reliable, clean, quiet, and very smooth running with utility and decorative stitches

My stitch test was easy - easy a fun machine.

You know those Kenmore's when they got it right they really got it right, I think this is one of them.

Pfaff 1471 Creative (1983)

Finally got a 1471, after being so impressed with the 1069 I wanted to add the IDT to see what all the hype was about. I am really in love with needle position and so I'm researching all the 80's machines where this function.

Its a super cool machine with the electronics arranged for easy use.

Its got:
Needle position.
More stitches
Complete electronic controls
Electronic reverse
And that vintage Hewlet Packard LED red read out!

These early electronic machines have a  tendency to switch back to a default numbers when you go from one stitch to another instead of remembering what your last setting was, like the SensorSew.
If you were straight stitch at 3.5 length (default 2.5,) go to  ZZ at 4 width and 1 length (default 3.5 - 1.5,) then back to SS you have to reset you length, if you go back to ZZ you have to reset those again too.
Weird thing about the reverse; it makes one more stitch in the original direction before executing the other direction

Anyhow, these are nice machines, they seam to have a punching power that is very refined; the motor noise doesn't change regardless of what its going thru.

The IDT is a good addition, I need more experience with it to give a real opinion.

I do a lot of medium weight leather and this guy walks right thru it; rotary hook can't be beat.

The reverse and slow stitch are at the stitch are at head and now that I've got used to the transverse presser foot lift lever I like it better than the rear mount version; although you can't use it with your left hand that is worth the trade.
The electronic bobbin empty sensor is really nice, with the blinking red light you may have a foot or so left in the bobbin so you can begin to plan your exit strategy

During my early stitching work out with this guy (it is German) small bits of plastic were falling around the machine, it kept happening for a while so I opened up the top cover and determined that the IDT cam follower rubber wheel was designating.
It is a bearing with a rubber tire on it, I need to find this part!

June 23, 2017

Husqvarna Viking Designer I (1998)

OK not so vintage but I got this with a half dozen other machines from Darrin.

So on my continuing quest for the perfect machine I am drifting towards the 80s.
To me the perfect machine would combine the cast iron "goodness" from the 60s and the super cool functions from the 90s, maybe some one could make such a thing.

The Husqvarna Viking Designer I is one of the earliest touch screen machines made and has some amazing features which I like.

I have become partial to needle position (up / down), I like left - right - center, and a few good utility stitches.

The thing is very strong and has a lot of features that are with us today.
It does not seem to be phased by leather, I have gone off of Viking machines and won't buy one for any reason because they are kind of light duty and always seem to be touchy on leather.
This one is different so I'm going to give it a chance.

It does ask that you sew a little differently than you did with old Betsy but you don't have to.

Presser foot down with the foot pedal is pretty cool, thread cut-off is excellent, the "Fix" or mini back-tack is nice. All of these functions are at your service on the stitch head.

FYI the thread cut-off actually pulls the top thread down and leaves you with about 15mm of each thread to tie off Amazing!

I don't care for the bobbin winder so I use my off-machine bobbin winder for them too. The bobbins wound on the Designer I always look lumpy and uneven, not that they won't work but this is one of those "things" that I can't get past.

Had it serviced by Husqvarna Viking Technician at the Ultimate Sewing Place in Livonia. That was a great experience because he let me sit and watch and learn while he worked.
As I suspected this machine has a run time meter inside the software and so we discovered that it has a grand total of 2 hrs sewing time and 16 hrs of embroidery time on it.

The reverse switch was bad so the control board on the far left was replaced, he did a general service and software update too. It was great to see the machine internal structure considering the covers are hard to get off and I won't be going in there anytime soon; it's a giant die-cast aluminum truss.

Did some pillow making with it while up north, I like it, need the zipper foot.

June 19, 2017

Kenmore 385.1884180 (1980's)

The Kenmore 385.1884180 is a Janome made machine with their outstanding rotary hook system

It is a: durable, reliable, clean, quiet, smooth running low mileage machine with utility and decorative stitches

Comes with case and accessories

Cheap Sewing Machine Rant: what beginner sewers should consider

So it has become clearer to me that the unfortunate new-comer to sewing may get their 1st experience clouded by the "let's get cheap NEW machine" syndrome.

By cheap I mean anything under a $1000, it is shocking how bad some of these new machines are when compared to the Vintage choices.

Your basic $250 machine is so cheap it can hardly sew a shirt, and if it does youv'e worn it out.

My point is that for $50 $100 $150 $250 you can get a Vintage machine that will take you into the journey of sewing in a manner that allows you to focus on the work and not the machine.

Here is a documented reference: My Singer 99-24 came with the original sales receipt for $90, That machine cost Daddy the equivalent of $1010 in 2017 dollars. (I bought it for $12.50, $1.10 in 1947 dollars)

Now don't run out and buy a Craigslist  $20 machine, instead, look for someone who knows someone that has a machine cleaned and tuned and ready for use. It takes me 2 - 6 hours to get one ready to sell and I know a little bit about them.
I guess that means your local repair guy or many of the EBay honest brokers. And again don't go for the cheapest but go for what you think will best suit you and your needs.
Plan a month of searching minimum and catalog the options and style that interest you.

Beginning is better at your Grandmother's level of machine, all those bells and whistles are really appreciated when you have a couple of years and many projects under your belt.

I just love to sell someone their 1st machine, when I get em' cheap I sell em cheap.

Good luck and keep sewing!


June 5, 2017

Regency 8141 (1964)

Am refining my range of machines that I like to have on hand to sell to the newbies at a good price.

The Regency fits well; it is from that perfect period in the 60's before the MBAs took over and during a time when precision manufacturing was king.

Trying out my new background drape for photog.

Styling is an odd mix of straight edge and bulbous forms; a combination of 50's and 60's design vocabulary's.

A nice stitching machine, quiet, and easy to use.
Tried the button hole function; seems OK but you might need a lot of practice to make flawless.
She's in basically unused condition so was mostly locked up but hums along now!

Tan and beige, a familiar combo, shows up everywhere
She comes with a manual
And the original paperwork

$168 in 1964 equals $1,312.64 in 2017, hmmm always had to spend real money to a get a good machine.
Bought at our beloved Hudson's downtown. Complete with lesson coupons!

May 25, 2017

Necchi Lydia 544 (1956) (straight stitch conversion)

Got the Lydia several years ago and with a broken cam-stack and cam-stack gear I just put it in the back

Lydia has the honor of being part of the MoMA collection; a true exercise in Functional Design.

The failings however were in the new materials that plague many machines in the early plastics replacement days.

So it has the standard cracked cam-stack and cam-stack gear, after talking to a fellow SM enthusiast who used hers for straight stitch only I decided to make mine into a straight stitch too.

The entire cam mechanism is a module that loads from the hand wheel end of the machine so it is not too difficult to remove the broken parts.

Another problem was the bar across the top of the bobbin case was bent up and so the case would not engage but would spin with the hook.

A third problem was also plastics related, the spring tension on the take-up spring is controlled by a set screw in this plastic part which broke out.

The fix was to drill thru the center pin and tap the hole all the way thru. With a screw on the back side the spring is held fast.

Has the original pedal
The removable flat-bed
Case and Manual

J C Penny 6910

There are a plethora of these Dressmaker like machines out there but I haven't seen many free arm versions

This thing had many issues and although it possesses the strong sewing capabilities of the Dressmaker it has some quirks.
I disabled the Stretch function because it made horrible noises so now its a good runner.

Had to adjust the feed dogs with a washer different from the one that was already in there.

In general a cheap workhorse.

May 9, 2017

Necchi BU - NA Wiring

After a lengthy search I discovered that there were no simple wiring diagrams for the BU series.

Since the light is one of those 12v things from my 1972 Fiat Spider it requires the transformer to drop the 110v to 12v

Here are photos of both the Nora and the Miranda.

I removed the auxiliary cord from both

The light is chassis grounded so there is only one wire going to it


Based on the two machines I have for reference, use only if you have background and / or familiarity with electrical systems.

I removed the auxiliary outlet on both because the cord was deteriorated.

May 5, 2017

Pfaff Tiptronic 1069 (1980's)

As stated earlier I have been on the quest for the better machine then the Necchi Nora, and also as stated I have become a champion of rotary hook machines.

My Pfaff 332 is more quiet than even the Bernina 830 and quiet is good.

After seeing some reviews and looking over the options on the 1069, 1171 and the like I found one.

I usually am enamored with each new machine and gush over them, if I think they have potential I put them into service and go with the feel of it... do I love it more than the Nora?

The 1069 has a number of amazing features, I'll get to them in a minute. The engineering mastery is what has me sold after the features. This is one precision machine; I'm beginning to think that the 80's was a rare time where old and new technologies converged to make machines that included both old school machining expertise and well developed electronics.

It includes the minimum F,R,L,R and C, and something I just can't get out of my head; needle position. The switch for that and the high and low speed switch are just above the needle.

It is a mostly die-cast aluminum machine with just a few plastic covers; the white part is aluminum and the base.

It had a loud screech when running so I tried to open up the top cover; NOT EASY. I recommend not doing it unless you posses great patience and have experience with plastic covers as I do.

With that off the front cover comes off. The only thing that was frozen up was the locking knob for the hand wheel; they used a white grease that turned hard and froze the hand wheel to the main shaft.
After prying the hand wheel off I was able to clean out all the old gunk and make the system work again. The lock system is unlike anything I have ever seen; very nice.

For those of you that would like to look under the hood I'm including these shots.

Upper thread tension system

Super nice take up threading system

Bobbin winding system


Easy access to the bobbin case (Made in West Germany) and nice snap on foot system

The case is Viking like in that it drops down from the top and the handle comes thru from the machine

The light is properly positioned

 Flat-bed attached
Doors open

Flat-bed second level

Flat-bed swing away

1st attempts at sewing are very favorable, excellent slow speed control however, when I put the machine to the table the foot controller cord was way too short??
As an all aluminum machine it can't match the sound of the cast iron beauties and so at high speed it has a sound.

Then I remembered that it has possibly the only one like it, a take-up reel in the foot pedal!!

I would never bother showing the cord plug and the foot pedal but Pfaff thought of everything.
the fully retracted foot pedal cord, and the 110 cord goes either way amazing!

It really is a strong machine, have tried layers of leather and some of the styles, all good so far.