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Vintage Sewing Machines

A large number of people have discovered the benefits of older sewing machines. Whether it's because they are simple enough to maintain and repair with common handtools, or strong enough to sew thicker fabrics without hesitation, or just because they are plentiful, cheap, and fun to collect. This site is dedicated to passing on information to make your experience more enjoyable.

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Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet



Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

I am always looking for small (quick) projects to exercise my vintage machines.  I have so many that they seldom get used and, like an automobile, letting one sitting idle is about the worst thing that you can do to either.

My daughter has a Fitbit that she wears religiously every day.  Problem is, the rubbery bracelets produce a rash on her wrist.  we have dozens of sewing machines and probably a ton of fabric in the house, so I volunteered to design a cotton holder for her Fitbit that would not cause a rash.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

This is the design I came up with on the third attempt.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Begin with a strip of fabric 2 inches wide and 19 1/2 inches long.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Fold 1/4 inch of the right side of the fabric over twice

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet


and tack down.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Mark the center of the fabric strip and fold the tacked end up to center.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Fold the other end up to center and overlap the tacked end by 1/2 inch.  Pin in place.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Sew up both sides with a scant 1/2 inch seam.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Clip the corners.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

And turn right side out.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

To keep the Fitbit from sliding all the way to the end, sew stitches 2 3/4 inches from both ends.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Attach hook-and-loop (one to the top of the bracelet and one to the under side.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Slide the Fitbit in through the opening.  push it all the way to the stitching and then work it back to center.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Initially, I was concerned that she would not be able to see the lights on the Fitbit and constructed the first prototype with a plastic window.  She didn't like the looks of the window and says she can see the lights through the thin cotton fabric so she told me to make future models without the plastic window.

The old Singer worked flawlessly throughout the process but I noticed that while left and center needle positions were correct,

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet

 when right needle was selected, the needle only went slightly past center.

Singer 403 and Fitbit Bracelet


 I suspect lubrication is the issue but I oiled every piece I could get to in the circuit and was unable to correct the situation.  The odd part is that when sewing zig zag, the needle goes full throw left and right.  I notice that the left-Center-Right selector "pops out" when left or center positions are selected but does not "pop out" when right is selected.  That is where I will concentrate my efforts.


Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch



Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


To keep all my old sewing machines limber, I like to take them off the shelf occasionally and use them on a project.  I really should tag each machine to tell me when was the last time it was oiled and used but I’m just too lazy.  Anyway, I pulled this Rocketeer off the shelf, oiled it and tested the stitches.  I have no idea how long it had been sitting unused, maybe years.

Straight stitch was fine
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


but wide zig zag was not. 
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


I narrowed the stitch width and it got a wee bit better, but still not in the acceptable range.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


My first thought was that the needle bar had been shoved up in its clamp by hitting a button or zipper but the marks on the needle bar were in the correct position so I knew that was not the cause.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


The next thought was hook timing.  The point of the hook should pass just above the eye of the needle when the lower timing mark on the needle bar is at the needlebar bushing.  It was, so that was not the issue.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


When I was watching the hook pass by the needle, I noticed that there seemed to be a more-than-usual separation between the needle and the hook point.  The service manual says that distance should be .018 inches but I measured it at .032 inches – almost twice what it should be.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


To be sure that the needlebar was not bent, I installed a size 18 needle and a straight stitch needleplate and checked where the needle passed through the hole in the needleplate.  It looked just like the drawing in the service manual, so the needlebar was not bent.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch

Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch
The next step was to move the hook closer to the needle.  The service manual says to loosen the two setscrews indicated by "O"
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch

And move the entire hook saddle.  It was easy enough, after loosening the two screws, the hook saddle swivels around the shaft it is mounted on and the hook point can be moved closer to or farther from the needle.  I moved the hook as close to the needle as possible without hitting it and tightened the screws.

I now still have good straight stitch and the narrow zig zag is as it should be.
Singer 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag Stitch


I am not getting the full width zig zag that the machine is capable of, but that is a different problem that I will tackle later.

 Ed


Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

You bought a new foot control and want to connect it to your current cord; you bought a new cord and need to connect it to your current foot control; you bought a new cord and foot control and they came to you as separate pieces.  The following should help you get that sewing machine running.
I used a vintage Necchi foot control in my example, but you should be able to decode your foot control, once you get it opened up.

Not all vintage foot controls look the same, but all 2-wire controls operate essentially the same – electrical current flows into the control; a resistance of some sort (carbon pile, resistance wire, etc) reduces the size of that current and sends it out to the motor.

1.  Disconnect all electrical power before starting to avoid the possibility of shock or fire!!!
2. Tip the foot control over and locate the screws holding on the bottom cover. 

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

Many vintage Asian-made foot controls have covers that just slide off, rather than being screwed on.  I won’t discuss modern controllers because there are YouTube videos covering them.  Remove the screws or slide off the bottom cover.  Now is the time to look at any cushions surrounding the screws and obtain replacements for missing or deteriorated cushions.
3. If there is an insulation plate, remove it and set aside.  Not all foot controls have them.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

WARNING:  Some controllers contain a capacitor to filter out radio noise.  They usually look like small tin cans.  Capacitors can store electricity, so do not touch the connection points to avoid shock.

4. At this point, look around for pieces that might fall out and get lost.  This controller has a spring that is not attached in any way, some button controllers have an actuating button that can fall out.  Remove any loose pieces, noting where they go so you can get them back in the right position.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

5. You are now ready to disconnect the old cord, if there is one.  Just unscrew the two screws and lift the wires off.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

Preparing the New Cord

6. If the cord you are installing has terminals installed, skip to step 12.
7. Since you’re still here, your cord does not have terminals installed.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control

  Terminals are available at Radio Shack and many hardware and home stores.  I got mine at Harbor Freight and Lowe’s.  Terminal sizes are denoted by the color of the insulation sleeve.  For the size wire used by sewing machines, pink or red insulation sleeve is appropriate.
8. Strip about ½” of insulation from the wire ends.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control


9. Insert the end of the wire into the terminal so that the wire insulation is well inside the terminal’s insulation sleeve and the stripped end of the wire peeks out beyond the end of the insulation sleeve.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control


10. You can crimp the terminal with ordinary pliers, but a better result will be achieved with wire crimping pliers, like these with the yellow handle.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control


11. Crimp the terminal close to the end of the insulation sleeve that covers the stripped wire end.  You want the terminal to connect to the stripped wire, not the insulation.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control


Installing the Cord

12. Installation is the reverse of removal.  If you have space inside the controller, tie a knot in the wires to prevent them from sliding out through the exit hole.  Connect the two wires to the two terminals.  It makes no difference which wire goes to each terminal, a resistor can’t tell the difference which way current is flowing.

Re-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot Control


13. Route the wires so that they do not interfere with any moving parts and out through the exit hole, slot, or whatever is there.
14. Replace any loose parts you removed in step 4.
15. Replace the insulating pad, if your controller has one.
16. Replace the bottom cover.
17. Connect to your sewing machine and Sew!

Ed


Berninas

We had to go to LaPlata, Maryland yesterday and our appointment was just around the corner from Material Girls Quilt Shop, so Kathie insisted we stop by for a "quick look".  It has been a while since I have visited that store, so while Kathie was petting fabric, I wandered around looking for sewing machines.  The shop has expanded since I was last there and they have taken over a second storefront completely dedicated to Bernina sewing machines.  Now, I do not sew enough to justify the price of a Bernina, but it's still fun to see them.  As I walked into the showroom area, I immediately spotted a vintage machine in the front corner.

Berninas

It was the first Bernina 117 I have ever seen in person, and this one is in pristine condition!  I have seen them on eBay and always thought they looked cool, but at the time, an average specimen was selling for $400-$600, so I passed.  I must have stood there ten minutes, just looking at the paint, decals, and chrome plate.

As I turned around to go back into the fabric section, I spotted a lineup of Berninas on a high shelf

Berninas

It's like a graphic timeline of Berninas from the 1950s to 1980s(?)  The place is like a mini-museum of Berninas and made me not mind stopping for a short time.

Ed
Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Store









Adjustable Zipper Foot


Adjustable Zipper Foot
Browsing through some orphan boxes of accessories, I found a presser foot I had never seen before.  It is an adjustable zipper foot but it is different.  All my other zipper feet have one toe

Adjustable Zipper Foot

This one has two toes with a slot in the middle between the toes.

Adjustable Zipper Foot

It can sew on the left side

Adjustable Zipper Foot

or on the right side

Adjustable Zipper Foot

or straight stitch in between the toes. 

Adjustable Zipper Foot

And you don't have to change the foot to sew zippers, piping, or anything else you would use a zipper foot for - just loosen the thumbscrew in the back and slide the foot to the desired position.  I can't believe that, with all my years of collecting sewing machines, I have never before seen a foot quite like this.

This provides a much better product when straight stitching because the foot spans both rows of feed dog, not only one row.  Fabric should feed straighter and more evenly with twice the feed dog contact.

I have been using this foot on my Anker RZ for all the sewing I do on that machine except zig zag. The only foot I have is high shank and the only high shank machine I have out and set up for sewing is the Anker so it was a natural pairing.

Since I like the foot so much, I searched for a source so I could add them to the inventory of my Etsy shop.  I have found them in high shank, low shank, and Singer slant shank. 

Ed
Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Shop


Pfaff Hobbylock 774

Last week, a lady brought her Babylock Pro-Line serger by for a cleaning and to have the knives replaced. 

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

The machine had been sitting idle for some time and had gotten stiff, so I had to go fairly deep into it to restore lubrication to all the moving parts and had to resort to YouTube for instructions on adjusting the new knives because I had never replaced knives before.

That got me in the mood to tackle one of my three seldom-used sergers to see if it was still in working condition.  I made the choice which one to work on by turning the balance wheels.  The Brother and the Babylock both turned freely

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

but the Pfaff was frozen solid - I couldn't turn the wheel at all!

Pfaff Hobbylock 774


Pfaff Hobbylock 774

I picked up this serger fairly cheap because it had significant rust.  You can't see much of the rust in these photos because (a) I have cleaned some off and (b) the really serious rust is inside where you can't see it.

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

 I wish I had taken photos when I had all the covers off but I got too impatient to see if it was fixed to go get the camera and take pics.  Threading a serger is difficult enough that I was not going to un-thread just for a photo op.

The biggest problem (after oiling and freeing up the mechanism) was that the lower looper timing was way off.  All I got was a series of parallel needle holes on the fabric with no interlocking thread at all.  Fortunately, I had a service manual for the Hobbylock 794 which was close enough to provide all the necessary adjustments and clearances.  The serger now works the way it should, even if it is not the prettiest one I own.

Pfaff Hobbylock 774

Even though I rarely use a serger, I felt this effort was worthwhile because I learned a lot about how one works.  Before this, I thought there was a little magic box inside the case that made all the fancy stitches happen - now I know it is just a bunch of levers and bellcranks and it no longer mystifies me.

Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Store

Kenmore 385.1684180

Even though it has the slide plate that turns under the seam allowance, I really like my 385.17881 Kenmore because it is so smooth and quiet. 

Kenmore 385.1684180

I always consider those traits to be an indicator of the quality of the machine.  Unfortunately, when I got it, the stitch length dial was very difficult to turn and I tried to loosen things up with a heat gun, melting some teeth on the plastic gear behind the stitch length dial.  I was able to reposition the gear so that the missing teeth were  not where they would affect stitch length selection, but the dial still turns very hard and I only have stitch lengths of 10-12.  I have been looking for a replacement for that machine, hoping to find the exact model needing work so I could cannibalize parts from my current machine to rehab the new one.

I still haven't found the exact model replacement, but I saw this 385.1684180 on an online auction.

Kenmore 385.1684180

 The style lines are very similar to the 385.17881 and it has the same rotating hook and drop-in bobbin, so I bid on it, hoping it would be as smooth and quiet as the 385.17881.

When I received the 385.1684180, I saw that it appears to have been well-used, but not abused.  The light bulb was burned out and the plastic bushings that hold in both spool pins are broken.  Sears Parts Direct had the bushings in stock and they are on the way to me.  The bobbin area was very clean, making me think the machine had been well cared for, but when I opened the bottom covers, a lint ball the size of a plum fell out!  It had been cleaned from above, but never went in for a professional servicing.  There was also a lot of gummy substance on many of the surfaces underneath, including the hook gear.  I tried to clean it off with mineral oil, alcohol, and several other substances but scraping it off seemed to be the only way to remove it.

Those issues  were easy to fix but one was more difficult - it would not stitch in reverse.  Pressing the reverse button had no effect, it just kept going forward.  Tracing out the linkage from the Reverse button, I found that there are two springs and a collar that slides along the hook shaft. 

Kenmore 385.1684180

When the collar is to the right, the machine sews forward.  When the collar slides to the left, the feed dog travel is altered so the fabric feeds in reverse. 

Here's how it works:
    The spring near the Reverse button (not shown in these photos) is stronger than the spring down by the collar (in yellow circle).
    When the Reverse button is pressed, the weaker spring is allowed to slide the collar (in the red circle) to the left for Reverse.
    When the Reverse button is released, the stronger spring pulls the rod (in blue) and overrides the weaker spring and slides the collar to the right for forward sewing.

  I could feel that the collar was not moving freely and spent two days trying to free it up.  After lubing and exercising the collar and hook shaft for hours with no results, I accidentally knocked the arm from the weaker spring out of its track and found that the collar itself was actually free-moving, it was the arm from the weaker spring to the collar that was binding.  I had oiled the pivot point of that arm in the very beginning but that was not enough.  I removed the arm and spring, cleaned everything well and re-lubricated.  The Reverse button now works as advertised and the machine sews backward as well as forward.

 FORWARD
Kenmore 385.1684180

REVERSE
Kenmore 385.1684180
 
 
Ed
 
 
 


Singer 20U33

Singer 20U33

  I have an industrial 20U33 that I like to sew on.  It is smooth, strong, and quiet and makes a perfect stitch.  It also has a 9mm zig zag, which I rarely take advantage of but I know it's there if I need a wide zig zag.
I have had it mounted in a power stand from a Singer 95-10 that went away years ago.

Singer 20U33

  I like the table because of its solid wood top that I intend to refinish some day and the flip-up leaf that extends the sewing surface.  Problem is, the ancient clutch motor has four wires protruding from it and I can find no documentation how to hook up the wires to make the motor operational.

Singer 20U33

  To substitute for the missing clutch motor, I installed my largest family machine motor - a 1.3 amp model from a White.

Singer 20U33

  The treadle did not allow the foot control to be positioned in a comfortable location so I wedged it under the far end of the treadle and depress the treadle to actuate the speed control, just like I would if the clutch motor were working.

Singer 20U33

  This setup allowed me to sew but there was no light.  I tried a stick-on LED light but it did not provide adequate illumination in the proper direction. 

Singer 20U33

  A tabletop Ott Lite provided illumination but I was constantly knocking it over.
To the rescue was a Singer 252

Singer 20U33

with a broken plastic gear in the upper section.

Singer 20U33

   I was able to find a replacement gear but see no way to replace it without removing the main shaft - a task I do not wish to undertake - so it is now a parts donor. 

  The first donation was the foot control, motor and attached light.  They fit perfectly on the 20U33 and I now have a machine I like to use with enough light to see what I'm doing.

Singer 20U33


Singer 20U33
 
 
Ed
 

Singer Auto-Reel

Singer Auto-Reel


  This week, I had the pleasure of working on the first model of Touch & Sew made by Singer.  It is a model 600 but the model number is not displayed in the usual place, it just says "Auto-Reel" and the wind-in-place bobbin is placed in wind mode using a push-down button.

Singer Auto-Reel

  Later versions of the 600 and its descendants had the winding mechanism actuating button under the slide plate.

  When I saw the machine, I assumed there would be little to do other than oil and grease because it looks as though it has been used very little.  No paint chips, scratches, needle strikes, or other signs of wear.  It was noisy running, indicating that some time had passed since its last lubrication, so that's where I started.  After oiling and greasing, I tested the various functions and found that (a) the release mechanism was not latching and

Singer Auto-Reel

 (b) the needle would not return to the right in zig zag.

  The zig zag problem was easy to figure out, there was a broken spring lying in the bottom of the housing.

Singer Auto-Reel

 I couldn't find a new replacement and none of my parts machines used the identical spring, even though the part number for the spring in the 500 is the same.  I found a similar spring in my parts bin that was longer and cut it down to the same length as the old spring.

  After replacing the spring, the release mechanism would still not latch and clattered back and forth with every rotation of the shaft.  The service manual tells how to adjust that mechanism but says, "Be sure stitch pattern selectors are properly engaged.  Otherwise, machine will not engage when in operation." I looked at the pattern selectors, and, sure enough, the lower selector was not popping out when moved to position "A".

Singer Auto-Reel

  I started tracing out the mechanism to find the reason and saw that the rear index pin was full of crud

Singer Auto-Reel

and I assumed that the lever would not lock into the slot because of that. 

  After removing the index pin, cleaning, reinstalling and readjusting, there was no improvement.    The cam followers were at the correct position but the indicator on the front of the machine was not.  When the cam followers were in the straight stitch position, the indicator read "C" instead of "A".  Back to the service manual and adjusting the indicator.  Once the indicator and the cam followers agreed, the selector button popped out as it should and everything worked fine, sort of.

Singer Auto-Reel


  On to testing the stitches and I noticed there was less than 1/4" clearance under the presser foot.  Normally that is an easy adjustment, but on this series of machines, the presser foot pressure adjuster

Singer Auto-Reel

must be removed to access the presser bar clamping screw. 

Singer Auto-Reel

  Removing is not a problem, reinstalling is a bit troublesome.

  With all those adjustments and repairs, straight stitch worked properly but zig zag would only catch on one side.  That normally means that either the presser bar height is incorrect or the hook is not timed to the needle.  In this case, it was the hook timing.  When the hook point was supposed to be even with the needle, it was about 10 degrees off.

Singer Auto-Reel

  After spending much of my Labor Day weekend tinkering with this machine, today I finally put it all back together, wiped off the greasy fingerprints and sewed a successful test swatch.  I hope the next one is a bit easier, although I enjoyed the challenge and learned a lot from this one.

Ed
Ed's Vintage Sewing Machine Parts Store

Singer 6267

Singer 6267


Singer 6267


Yesterday, a friend gifted (cursed?) me with a Singer 6267.  She said it had been in storage for some time and then left in a hot car for a day and the next time she ran it, it was stiff and ran slow.  She replaced the machine and now, if I didn't want it, she would donate it.  It came with a goodly assortment of accessories and one of the two manuals.

Singer 6267

Being a sucker for a free sewing machine, I took it home.  I cleaned lint out of the gear teeth in the lower section and oiled all the spots I could get to but cannot figure out how to remove the top lid.  If anyone knows the secret to that, please clue me in.  I was able to download the second manual from Singer so I could figure out how to wind a bobbin and remove the bobbin case for cleaning.

Anyway, it sews fine, all the stitches I tried worked fins and it sews with all the speed I would expect, albeit a bit noisy.

Singer 6267

  The only thing I can find wrong is the slot to the right of the upper tension adjustment, where the thread is supposed to lie, is too tight for thread to comfortably fit in the slot, it has to be forced.  I need to find where to open up that slot.

Singer 6267


I sewed a couple of quilt blocks for a pillow and everything worked as advertised.

Singer 6267


The jury;s still out on whether I will keep this machine or not, it's newer and more complicated than the rest in my stable and it has the type of slide plate that folds back the seam allowances as you sew.  I can get used to lifting the fabric as a seam allowance slides across the bobbin cover but don't feel that I should need to do that, I have plenty of machines that don't require me to trick them into sewing well.  I do like the LOW BOBBIN warning light, too many times I have sewn seams with no thread in the bobbin.

Singer 6267

Ed

Singer 403 and Fitbit BraceletSinger 500a Will Not Form Zig Zag StitchRe-Wiring a Vintage Sewing Machine Foot ControlBerninasAdjustable Zipper FootPfaff Hobbylock 774Kenmore 385.1684180Singer 20U33Singer Auto-ReelSinger 6267

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