November 23, 2012

Remington Automatic Zig-Zag (1950s)

Our neighbors Mel & Marline put her old machine out in  front on Tuesday for the sheeny man and so I asked if I could have it; can't pass up an interesting free machine.  Typical of this vintage it was covered with the oil grime and could not make it around a full turn. But with oil can in hand (the most fun part) I coaxed it back to life.

The light parts aren't white they are a very light beige... beige on beige. 

This one required the full 4 hour treatment; take everything on the front and back off and soak all of the chrome pieces over night in Super Clean. You have to be careful with Super Clean because overnight it will remove any but baked on paints.

I have found a distinct pattern to the older machines; the 50's - 60's machines are without question the smoothest running machines I have. 
I think this is so for several reasons:  
  1. They were built to an extremely high standard of precision. 
  2. They have the bobbin hook rotating on a parallel axis as the flywheel. 
In addition to the smooth characteristics is the ZZ stitch quality; when the bobbin hook rotates parallel to the flywheel axis the machine "does not know" weather it is making a straight stitch or ZZ stitch since the entire hook rotating mechanism moves in exact unison with the needle.

A little about the "name badged" Japanese machines of that era:
In the late 50s to early 60s, there were numerous instances of distributors marketing the Japanese machines with names that were the same or almost the same as US companies who sold appliances, cars, etc. I specifically remember Cadillac, Ford, Mercury, Remington, and Sunbeam. As I recall, the appliance mfgrs were more upset by this than the car companies, probably because they thought there could be a legitimate confusion over whether the machines were theirs. If memory serves, Remington successfully sued and stopped the use of their name, and I believe that the same distributor then started using Sunbeam. I even recall that at one time, they tried to get away with it by spelling the name "Sunbeem."                  - Bill Holman
Although very much the same machine as my other Remington stylistically it is much more together; the "dashboard" is designed in a more pleasing and organized fashion. Unlike the other machine it has a strange button hole making knob together with the ZZ lever in the satin silver painted dashboard.

For my design reference I decided to dig into this Beige thing!

Its harder to find a picture of Jackie in beige than you might think... lots of B&W photo in those days. Here she is rocking that facial symmetry.

Jackie Kennedy 1961  Oleg Cassini Ivory Double faced Silk Satin Twill  The Rosette at the waist a "cockade"  and ode to her affinty for 18th century fashion  And French Bouvier Ancestry

Jackie Kennedy 1961 Oleg Cassini 

Now I'm just spinning out of control; Jackie is captivating on the level of Audry and Grace!

October 21, 2012

Elna Supermatic (1956)

Currently my quest is for the more eclectic, stylish, and revered. So along came the Supermatic model 722010. It came with the standard grime covering the whole exterior and reassurances that it worked. There were many frozen parts and mechanisms that would keep it from sewing so it was a major search and destroy refurbish job.

Weight: The machine weighs only 18 lbs but the all metal case weighs 10lbs making the combination feel heavier than one would think.
Speed Control: The knee control isn't hard to get used to but I think I would miss the fine control of the foot pedal.
Presser foot: The presser foot uses the short shank but there is NO WAY TO ADJUST THE PRESSURE! Now, anyone using it for any fabrics I think would never miss it, however, for leather you often need to wind up the tension because the leather grips the needle on the way out and can lift the foot.
Bobbin load: The bobbin is standard but the access is not; you have to learn the tricks of finger placement and what things look like when it's correct. Without a great deal of inspection and contemplation you would never see the details of how the thread comes out of the tension spring, but  once correct it is there for good. Just like the Lotus the bobbin thread tension is made to be adjusted instead of the "Oh my, what have I done" method used on all other machines.
Sewing: Having a rub wheel instead of a pulley I expected that the start up would be terrible, but no, it is quite good, even thru leather. The hand wheel however takes getting used to. It is a noisy machine, this may be (like the 301) a function partly of being made of aluminum?

It's an easy machine to thread the upper and the thread tension are easy to use. I can see why the following is so strong it is a nice clean machine. I don't have the discs but I don't care for anything but straight, ZZ, and  left & right of center, these are what I need and use.

For my automotive reference nothing could come closer than the irreverent SAAB 96; different in every way loved by its fans, laughed at by the uninformed. I of course had two of these little gems in my younger days. It is Swedish not Swiss and 70's not 50's illustrating again how Elna was ahead of its time. The 96 really is crazy and that's why we love it. It was a North / South front engine, front wheel drive, had those large diameter wheels, a V4 Ford tractor engine, had lots of interior space, and was Spartan, just to name a few. Revered for its toughness it was the go to choice for Moto-Cross in Europe back in its day. 

Circa 1975 


October 17, 2012

The Stable: the Necchi Nora and the Pfaff 360

After a couple of years of collecting, playing with, learning about, and restoring machines I have boiled it down to a couple of domestic machines that are the best for my leather work. Not that there aren't many other machines that could and would fit the bill it's just that I like the function, sound, and reliability of these two machines.

No they are not on the table they are in the cabinet!

In the cabinet (specially reinforced to take the load) are the Nora and the 360. Along with the machines on the shelf above are all of my heavy duty threads. The machines come right down onto the table and back away as soon as I'm done; I love open work benches. I keep both of the foot controls plugged in and hung an a hook below the table. All is good in my little shop.

At one point I thought I would never settle down on any particular machine; deciding that each new machine was now the greatest one I had ever used. But alas I have. These two machines together with the Juki 246, the Cowboy 8810, and the Singer 29 - 4 make they up the 5 machines that I use in shoe making. Not that there aren't a couple of shoe-only machines that I still want, but that is another story.

For an automotive reference I guess I had to add what I hope is something I can afford to own someday; a 65 Chrysler Imperial.
Chrysler scored a coup by hiring Elwood Engel away from Ford, where he had designed the 1961 Lincoln Continental.(Wikipedia)

September 2, 2012

Singer 29 - 4 (1914)

Well I finally found a model 29 in Norther Michigan, needs work but seems in pretty good order after the first oiling - up.

Here she is looking south over the great Crystal Lake.

Only part that is missing completely is the thread tension assembly, I am sure I can make one from spare parts that will look original (enough.) Lot's of grime and goo all over it but that's just cleaning. I was expecting to find some very loosey goosey parts and operations but she is very tight. Mind you I have never worked on one of these things before; I seem to always need a new challenge. I keep thinking it is a long ways from sewing and I hear they are not easy to run so I am not sure if it will be two weeks or two years before I can say its a reliable runner.

Knowing what every little feature and detail of a sewing machine helps understand the genius of this design.Obviously the goal of the design was two fold:
  1. Achieve the smallest bobbin / hook footprint ever
  2. Make an omnidirectional feed mechanism
I suspect somebody told some old-timer that it couldn't be done and that was enough to get it done.

Well I thought I would just wipe it down and try to sew with it but I've gone into a total disassemble of it, so far so good. The exposed areas were heavily pitted but over night in CLR and its straight to the wire wheel with it. Once it's all back together I still have to make the missing thread tension mechanism.

And here she is all finished and running.

I had the cast iron frame sand blasted and painted at Georges Collision on 9 mi. George is a great guy and appreciates restoration. But I could not have got it running without t he help of Brad The Sewing-machine man in Wyandotte; he saw what was wrong with the timing using his Eagle eye.  

I have never used a treadle machine before and it will of course take a lot of practice. The bobbin thread tension is not easy to adjust or get at but this is the compromise made for such a specialized machine. It is not a production machine it is referred to as a "patcher" made for shoes, boots and getting down into sleeves. 
It is a true addition to my shoe making arsenal. 

The two fixes I made to the 29-4 are here in one picture. 

It had none of the thread tension components so I scavenged some discs and adjuster nut, threaded a piece of brass rod (1/4-28,) turned the tension release cup on the lathe, and cut a piece of spring to fit. 

The real challenge was taking out the free play in the end of the needle bar rocker casting. The horizontal rod at the top of the needle bar had worn out the casting to what I thought was an unacceptable degree (.016 TIR.) I drilled out the whole in the casting and turned and reamed a piece of bronze bearing material, the result is a more precise needle position (.005 TIR.) The later models had many improvements (the Ks) including this area where the steel rod is running in a steel liner instead of directly on the casting.

As for my automotive reference I have chosen the 1914 Dodge. Having worked at Chrysler since 1985, (following my father who also worked there) I have worked on all of the different models at one time or another.

It appears as though black was it, oh yeah "any color as long as it's black." Geeky forms hearkening back to the previous century, horse & buggy Victorian styling. At this time the styling department had yet to be invented in the automotive industry; it would be another 15 years before Harley Earl would become the 1st head of styling at GM and begin the process of legitimizing or shall I say establishing DESIGN as an integral part of the product world.

 Usage update: requiring patience and attention to detail the 29-4 is an excellent sewer!
I cannot believe the stitch forms at such a low speed; very reliable once you get the bobbin tension and all the details tweaked. It is more of an adventure to run than a sit down and slam the pedal to floor type of machine so you need to be in the right mood or just don't sit down at all. I made $100 on the 1st repair I did with it and just used it on a one of my art pieces, I love it.

August 24, 2012

Elna Lotus (1967)

Well I finally found my very own Lotus; missing only the the manual but having all of the little tools under the hood! Although very dirty, with lots of dried up tape on it, it cleaned up almost perfectly. I used TR-3 as recommended by my friend Julie and I think that it is a very good choice for cleaning and polishing with out damage.

For clean up I took ALL of the covers off and discovered a marvel of manufacturing engineering. Impressive right down to the bobbin case that has the most elaborate and detailed bobbin tension adjuster I have ever seen. The engineering creativity is second to none; all sorts of interesting solutions to complicated problems.

It has the electronic foot controller with the old Singer like button. The foot pedal has a + - switch on it that actually is a hi - low speed range, they don't all come with this.

And that brings me to the model designation?? I cant find anything on it that tells the exact model (or year) of Lotus; such as SP, TSP... It's usually on the front in big letters and I was instructed to look on the SN tag but nothing I can see. If the chart at THE NEEDLEBAR is correct then this is a very early 1968, in fact the model year chart indicates that it was made in 1967.

As far as sewing it has an unusual but good sound, and it seems to have outstanding stitch quality.

The hi - low speed adjustment isn't really very much of a range and this machine may have the slowest top speed I have come across, which might be a problem for some users.

No review would be complete without a picture of it all closed up. As we all know it was selected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for its "Design Collection". Styled by Raymond Loewy the unique features like the storage in the top and the Lotus pedals combined with the clean design make this machine worthy of the accolades.

So it is a friction wheel drive... no belt, both good & bad. 

Oh I get it!

Hmmm, let's look at what else the great Raymond did, so the Avanti was a Loewy design launched in 1963, in 1968 the first Elna Lotus came out. In the MoMa collection too

I came across these rendering claimed to be by Loewy:

Pencil sketches, no PhotoShop here!


August 10, 2012

Singer 301 (1952)

 Well I never understood the hype surrounding the 301s but after a trial sewing I think I get it. What a sweet little machine! Basically the same running gear as the 221 with an all new body. I can't decide if it's the super light weight (16lbs), slim design, or ease of use, but I do like it.

Found this 1952 (301, not 301a) one at an estate sale with the bobbin case missing... I am going to call out all of the people that steal them out of the machines at sales; shame on you. Anyhow I got an original replacement and it it runs beautifully.

I believe access to the bobbin is better than any machine using a removable bobbin case.

Although very grimy it is virtually scratch free and is cleaning up slowly. And since I am calling people out I will make my complaint regarding the crappy paint Singer used on these mocha machines WTF! you know what I'm talking about; it has poor surface quality, has to be cleaned very carefully, and more than likely will always have some blotches in the end. One of the failings of a large engineering company is that a penny saved on a million units makes a healthy bonus for some hack executive.

For my automotive reference I'm bringing in the late 60s BMW (had one of these.)

The BMW's were quirky back then for sure, so this just shows how far ahead Singer was at the time.


June 3, 2012

Necchi Nora (1958)

Found the Nora at  church sale in very nice condition. Nearest I can tell it was made in the 50's. Compared to the Nova it is much more modern looking but has the same controls. after sewing with it several times I discovered why it was at the sale; turns out the thread tension device is a little fussy to adjust correctly and someone had moved it just out of position. Because the position (in and out of the casting) is critical it took a while to get it right. Also the bobbin tension had been wound up very high so you had to run up the upper tension to compensate, I think I have it balanced out now.

I really like this machine because (like only some machines) when you turn the flywheel by hand it feels completely free as if there is no friction; this makes any machine much nicer to operate.

The "two Speed" motor is a mystery; there seems to be no difference between either setting so I'll have to contact the expert on that.

It goes merrily thru an 1/8th in of softer leather perfectly.
Remember: although domestic machines can sew leather, leathers vary so much due to tanning and finishing that no one rule applies for all. Very detailed and exact practice parts are required for good results on the final pieces.

A 1956 Fiat 600 (that girl is NOT getting in that car dude)

Damn this is a nice machine to use! Smooth, quiet, strong, Sometimes just find something to do with it.

April 13, 2012

Pfaff 332 (1957)

All I can say is OMG! This thing is sooo post war German. Built in 1957 the 332 is as close to a mini industrial machine as I have seen. This machine is very smooth & very quiet.

It came in the standard grimy condition typical of these neglected 50's machines including a locked up solid forward-reverse lever. With both Tri-Flow & a heat gun I able to loosen it up. The bottom of the lever broke off so I will be looking for a replacement. It's a pretty amazing machine it has the rotary hook system identical to my Juki 256. It even has an auto threader that (after adjustment) works perfectly.

Pfaff used a cogged belt on this machine and the low speed seems to work great. I opened up the foot control to clean it up... it is a classic hand made electromechanical device; beautifully made.
One of the easiest machines to install the bobbin case I have used and again, the sound at any speed is smooth as silk.

FYI, I figured out how to fix the yellowed numbers on the 0 - 5 front dial. The dial comes apart fairly easily, take out the numbered disk and scan it at a hi resolution and Photo Shop the UV yellowing out of the scan. After you print it take some clear hard packing tape and cover both sides, then cut it out with an X-ACTO. I found it so annoying to have the whole machine cleaned up except for the yellowed numbers.

Recently sewed an organza bag with a tie at the end, the free arm made it a snap.

1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL


March 18, 2012

Remington Zig - Zag (1960's)

The Remington was at a local estate sale and after seeing it in the morning I went back at the end of the day to take her home.
From the 60's I can find little about it, however, from the other machines in my collection I see some interesting combinations. As with all product development from any period everyone borrows from everyone. Aside from being just another badged Japanese machine it has distinct Brother likenesses. The most interesting (and unique for the Japanese machines) is the Necchi BU presser foot lift mechanism; it's a very near copy. The presser foot tension control is also similar to the BU. 

Not a terribly attractive machine, it has a goofy organization of elements on the front; "just put a frame around each control and get on with it." However the machine runs and sews beautifully, fully making up for the lame attempt at industrial design.
I tried it out on a little practice piece... I think its more quiet than the BU? I'm going to keep working with for a while; I love quiet.

Beige in perfection! 1961


March 7, 2012

CowBoy 8810 (2011)

With all the searching and studying it came down to just going for the real thing.... a post-bed, wheel-feed machine. The Cowboy 8810 is one of a series made in China that has a lot of user development baked into it (or so the net says.) It is identical to the Artisan 4618.  I suppose that the bizarre and hard to use stitch length adjustment is part of what keeps the cost down, it is not however a cheap or poorly made machine. 

This type of machine is primarily for shoes and accessories only. It came with a low speed servo motor because that's the only way you can control the stitch path to the degree necessary for shoes.

Wheel feed means that both the upper and lower wheels are gear driven; the "presser wheel" is not just holding the material against the lower wheel but is driven in sync with it. There are machines with just a lower driven wheel and a friction wheel on top, and honestly I am not sure that that is all I needed. It is a machine that takes much practice before it gets to the "point and shoot" level and going around turns is not a snap, my suggestion is to run tight turns one stitch at a time until you get good.

I picked this up directly from Bob in Toledo a great guy to work with.

Customizations so far:
  1. Roller Pressure Foot
  2. Cowboy 8810 - Custom Hand Crank 


February 5, 2012

Kenmore 117.841 (1958)

After seeing and reading about the Kenmores that were made in Germany I went for one that came up on CL; I got all the cams and the manual with it too (made in 1958). After a lot of cleaning she looks pretty good.
"The "Kenmore 84" was, according to White, a product of American and Germany ingenuity. It was a zig-zag sewing machine which sold for the rather large sum of $239.95 in 1956" ISMACS 

Kenmore machine dating can be found at SN

Note: partial quote from Bill Holman,
"You are probably aware that the first digits in the Sears model # tell you who made it, and that 117 is the Sears source # for White. That being said, White did not make yours. You are correct about the time line, and this machine was made at a time when White was realizing that they could not survive without a ZZ machine, and could not afford to develop one. They also knew that if they could not offer a ZZ machine to Sears, they were going to lose the Sears contract to Japan, which eventually happened anyway. So White contracted with Gritzner-Kayser in Germany to manufacture a machine for them, and the same machine as a Kenmore, but cosmetically different."

The Kenmore badge drops down to access the cams. Like the Selecto-Matic of the same era it has a sort of pre war Locomotive style of engineering and general approach to detail that fast went away in the following decades. I think it's quiet and starts up more smoothly than most, the motor runs well at low speed too. Like the Necchi BU it has a fine thread adjustment on the upper thread tension knob; I like it better than the course adjustment style. 

This is one serious dog of a Chrysler, got the paint scheme but the homely mushy curves are old looking even for the 50's. This is where the sewing machines got a little ahead of cars; the rectilinear styling didn't come along in cars till the 70's.


January 21, 2012

Kenmore 158.13011 (1969)

Another 158 series Kenmore (made in 1969), a gift from Milda. It had some strange issues the worst of which was the main cam screws being loose; a difficult problem to diagnose, I don't think that it caused any damage.

Not the worlds most attractive machine, nothing but the basics, and a blind hem cam.

I will say that it is VERY smooth the Engineers really got this model balanced out well. It has a totally unique spring loaded motor mount; something that could have been on all of the other machines of that day, one that makes tensioning and changing the belt a "no tools" job.

A Scimitar? Bizzaro!

January 10, 2012

Necchi BU Nova (1952)

Having heard the way early Necchi's are spoken of (in hushed tones as if they were made by elves) I focused on getting one that came up on CL. Indeed it is a tight machine. This one built in the 40's  was essentially (as the story goes) never used; it shows no signs of wear however the paint has subtle crazing over much of the surface.
The straight stitch version in the MoMa Collection

The Nova is a handsome machine more so I think than the Mirelli. It is very quiet and smooth. The stitch length control is ingenious however a little hard to get used to.

The presser foot control knob and especially the thread tension knob feel more like instruments than any other machine I have ever run into; each having fine threads instead of the typical vague adjustments on all other machines.

I love sewing with this thing; if I can find any excuse to use it I do. It chugs along nice and slow when necessary and sounds great.

1940 Cadillac V-16 Sedan
Simply Regal!