Sunday, 31 May 2015

Demonstrating some attachments using a Singer 319K

The Singer 319K Swing needle machine

I have a soft spot for this machine. It was the first vintage Singer I ever bought. It had a major limitation that I managed to overcome. The limitation was the fact it needed a special needle.

Make it use a normal domestic needle

To overcome this, I had a very experienced sewing machine expert modify the bobbin case to make sure it could safely use normal needles. The 206x13 size is only made in normal point sizes 80 and 90 these days which limits the machine to about 10% of its capabilities. Additionally the twin needles haven't been made for decades and are almost impossible to get.

So, you modify the bobbin and your machine can now do 15x1s. This means you can now sew jeans, canvas, stretchy fabrics, silk. OMG! Hold on, that's not the whole story. You need to read your manual. Yes, yes, I know, only wimps read manuals. In that case I'm a card carrying wimp, but I bet I can do more with my 319 than you can (I'm virtually sticking out my tongue at you).

This one made in 1960, behold the mighty 319K
Below is the last garment I've made (finished it on Friday). About 99% of the work was done on the 319K. The 1% was when I stitched the ribbing to the cuffs. I used a free arm Bernina record because it's a bit easier and I had one right here.
Reversible bomber jacket


The buttonholes on this jacket were made using a Singer buttonholer. You can do without but it's such a huge pain that you wouldn't want to. Besides, old buttonholers are very cheap on that auction site we all know. You'd pay about $15 for one that doesn't use templates or $30 for the template one. I use the latter, because if you try swapping to a buttonhole size you did earlier it's impossible with the non-template one. Consistency is what I look for and the template buttonholer achieves this. Always use the cover plate rather than dropping the feed, because the plate (being higher) increases the foot pressure so it will hold the fabric much better.


The buttons were sewn on with the 319K. You do this for a quick and consistent result. The machine does a far better job than I ever could.
Every zig-zag machine probably comes with a button foot, which is made so you can see more of the button.
Close-up of finished buttons
Here is the button foot with button in place:
Put a needle F-R between the holes
Now, a couple of things to note. Before starting to stitch, lower the feed dog. On the 319 you do this by tilting back the machine as though you were changing the bobbin. You'll see a big thumb screw near the bobbin area. Unscrew it all the way until it gets tight again. You will notice that the feed dog has now dropped and will not smash your button when you start sewing (yes I've done it).
When sewing a button, you'll get a better result if you place a needle front to back between the two holes before starting to stitch it (which I haven't done in this picture). Reason is that after removing the needle, the button will be loose, even though there are many stitches holding it in place. You take all the threads so they are between the fabric and button (use a hand needle if necessary) and in pairs, wind them in opposite directions around the button five times then tie them together. You will have made a shank for your buttons. If you don't do this, the fastened button will pull at the fabric it's closing and this looks pretty bad. The thicker the fabric, the longer the thread you need to leave and of course you need to wind it a few more times.

Roll hem

Ever read in a sewing pattern's instructions "turn 1/4" toward wrong side twice"? Before I discovered the roll hem foot, I was at the ironing board with a ruler struggling to measure and press. My partner told me this is what you have to do, but after reading the manual I learned about this amazing foot.
fabric turned at the back to show the results
It's included with every sewing machine sold since the 1880s and is simple to use. I'd recommend practising for about 30 minutes before going into production. You have to control the feed so the edge and the main parts are even. You can see the result here: Perfectly straight line and consistent stitch.

Engaging the Zig-zag

The zig-zag is engaged by lifting the lever that has a picture of a zig-zag on it. You set the bight (width of zig-zag) and away you go. Very easy indeed.
If you select bight of zero you will get a straight stitch (with any pattern disc) which is obvious if you think about it. Any pattern you select is a straight stitch if the bight is zero.
Pattern relies on bight being more than zero


This is like overlocking/serging except it uses a simple zig-zag right at the edge. Rather than guess, or try some other way of making it straight, use the all purpose foot.
This is in the manual. If you don't have an overlocker, overcasting will finish the seam just as well. Here is the relevant page from the book:
This manual can be DLd free from Singer's web site
This means that you don't really need an overlocker. Hey, you just saved a small fortune!

The Ruffler

How many times have you seen these things and thought it looked like a medieval torture instrument? Never? Maybe it's just me then. Well the ruffler is an excellent tool for ruffling and for creating pleats.
Note plate at top right and screw underneath
The plate at the top is set to 6 here. This means the ruffler will only fold once every six stitches. Stitch length is still controlled by the usual means. The throw of the ruffler (how much fabric it pulls) is controlled by the screw. Some rufflers will have the adjusting screw on top.
You can also set the top plate to 12, meaning it will throw every 12 stitches. Set to 1, every stitch will ruffle, so you better make sure the throw is fairly short or you'll end up with a pirate shirt!


You might notice three pictures above that this fabric has interfacing on part of it. This is because I wanted to show you some embroidery. These days it's referred to as fusing, which is probably a portmanteau of fusible interfacing, fusible meaning it will fuse when you heat it enough to melt the glue. I doubt you can even buy the non-fusible variety these days, I know I've never seen it.
Application is extremely easy. Cut it and place when you want on the wrong side of your fabric. Press the iron at the appropriate heat level (I make it as hot as possible) and put a little pressure on the iron for ten seconds on each part of the fusing. After you do the whole section, it should be fused. If not, do it again. It's a pain when this stuff comes off.

Seam Guide

I haven't bothered with a picture of this, but Lizzie Lenard has a picture of one.
Screw it to the bed of your machine, adjusting to the width of your choice and use it to ensure you sew straight Lizzie's tip of putting felt under it is a good one and will prevent damage to your machine's paint.
Machines made in the latter half of the 20th century (like the 319K) also usually have a needle plate with lines marked 3 to 8. These are eighths of an inch. Also, at central position and with the general purpose foot, the distance between the needle and right side of the foot is exactly 1/4" (2/8) on the 319K (the 201 has this feature too). Very useful, as I frequently need that measurement. For those who are more metrically inclined 1/4" is 6mm, 3/8" is 1cm, 5/8" is 1.5cm. I'm not trying to be smart there. I live in a metric country but learned to sew using pre-metric patterns and pre-metric machines. Metric doesn't come into my sewing very often at all.

Machine Embroidery

First of all I was disappointed last week when I discovered that I couldn't do free motion embroidery successfully on my 319K. I'm pretty sure I tried it on the 320K2 last year successfully and the 320K2 comes with a darning hoop and hopping foot. The only difference between those two models is in the bobbin area, since the 320 has to squeeze everything into that little free arm (no room for droppable feed dog - boo!) but the 320 can do FME, so swings and roundabouts, really. The 319 can't FME but its feed dog drops. Here's what happened when I tried to FME on the 319K: I guided the fabric from front to back (like in regular sewing) and it works but as soon as I moved it sideways or back to front, it won't pick up the bobbin thread and I got skipped stitches. I could just limit myself to going front to back, but I might as well just pop the foot back on and have better control. This is what I did for the self portrait below.
UPDATE: FME does actually work on the 319K. I discovered that this particular machine had an issue where the needle wasn't near enough to the hook to pick up the thread when it was moving any direction other than front to back, and after adjustment, she now does a lovely embroidery stitch.
In the manual it suggests using the stitch pattern, or "fashion" discs (A.K.A. cams) to make pictures. I'd suggest just using the zig-zag and guiding the fabric around the picture you drew (in pencil).
The reason you need to fuse it is that the stitches tend to pull the fabric together during the zig-zag stitch, so it also helps if you reduce the thread tension (I set it to 2. Normally it's at 3.5). You might have to play with it to get it right, so again, use a test piece first.
I just drew a smiley face and traced around it:
Yes I actually do look like this, except my eyes are larger and further down.
So, are you getting the most out of your machine? I love attachments and special feet.The geniuses that invented them didn't do so because they're good gimmicks to sell machines. They were made to save you time and allow you to produce a more consistent result. Learn to use them, don't just look at them, and you'll wonder how you ever sewed without them.

Industrial strength sewing machines

I wrote a bit of a rant about this on an ad, because dishonesty is one of humanity's major problems.
It's a lot more common in the UK than here, but when you see the words "Industrial Strength" in a sewing machine ad, together and in that order, I can say without any doubt or hesitation that the seller is trying to rip you off.
The seller is attempting to make potential buyers believe that old machines like theirs are in some way just like industrial machines. This is a lie. There is no such thing as industrial strength and a machine is industrial or it is domestic. Actual industrial sewing machines are many times heavier and many times more expensive than domestic machines. People who own factories aren't so stupid as to buy a $3,000 Singer 132K6 to sew upholstery if a $90 Singer 201 plus cheap walking foot will do just as well. If you believe the 201 would do the job, you're dreaming. Industrial machines are made for a very specific task and are made to run at high speed, non-stop for half a day, every day. Your domestic machine is not.
I'll point to an article from a fellow blogger. He describes all the differences between industrial and domestic machines and explains all the reasons they aren't the same.
The other thing not to be very suspicious of is "Semi-industrial". It's true that Singer made light industrial machines for home manufacturing (e.g. 103K, 206K10) but these machines are always mounted on benches with large treadles or bench mounted (and very large and heavy) universal motors.
On eBay UK last week I saw a 99K being peddled as an industrial strength machine! These aren't even full size and have quite a small motor attached. However, there's no way to complain or report the dishonest seller for lying or misrepresenting an item. I doubt this is an oversight for eBay.

Heavy doesn't mean heavy duty: It pays to be suspicious if anyone uses the word industrial for a domestic sewing machine.

Do some research. I'll make it easy for you.
Assuming you have an old Singer, here are two invaluable resources:
ISMACS model list
ISMACS Serial numbers

Look your machine up. The serial number will give you the date of allocation of the serial number of your machine, which will be approximately when it was made. It will also tell you the model number.
The model list gives you a bit more information about what your machine is, the needles it takes, and other information. The usage column clearly tells you if the machine is domestic or industrial.

ISMACS is the International Sewing MAchine Collectors Society. They've collected a lot of information that can help you in making a good choice. You can always ask me or any other enthusiast. Not ripping people off is one of my favourite things.

I don't want you thinking that the 201 isn't an awesome domestic sewing machine either though. If you sew at home you can't do better than one of these little wonders. My favourite is the 201K23. I like the look of black ones the best but the tan versions seem to keep popping up in better condition.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Pack of Jeans that never runs out

Good Jeans need never die

I went to Sydney three years ago for the '50s fair and did some vintage shopping that weekend. Found a pair of 501s made in Australia, presumably in the 1980s and the tag inside said "Women's". Since I'd already tried them on and they were really comfortable I bought them.
Now the poor old things were on their last legs (pun intended), so what do I do? Cry about it or sew a pair exactly the same but without the rips?
Poor old things
During the week I went to my fabric shop and bought 2 metres of heavy (210 gsm) black drill. During the '80s when these jeans were available the black ones looked really good too.

Step 1: Making the pattern

This was really easy. No paper involved here, just the jeans and pair of snips. Undid all the stitching in one side of the garment. I chose the right side because of the change pocket. The rivets will stop you separating the whole thing, so cut around them. Don't attempt to remove the rivets, the fabric will rip before they come off. There is a lot of chain stitching in jeans, and there's a trick to undoing this. I've never been great at it but it's all one thread so in theory if you snip a particular thread at a particular end of a seam, you will be able to pull it and undo everything in seconds. I scored a few times but it took a while.
The reason for only unpicking one side should be obvious: You need a finished garment to see how it goes back together. Also, take loads of pictures. Every seam you undo and perspective shots. I'm a belt and braces guy because I've run into trouble so many times.
Might also be a good idea to write down the order you disassembled.
The unpicked side is your pattern, in case you haven't guessed. Here are 18 pictures of the process.
Pockets are not
the easiest
Take pics of the
stitch patterns too.
Where are the
belt loops?
This tells you
the order of
Button holes
are key hole
Belt loop bridges
waistband and
main garment
Can't take too
many pictures
All details need
to be reproduced
Except the rivets
How the pocketing
goes on
and again
Where are things
How far pockets
What stitching
looks like from
the inside
Look at that:
Raw edges are

Step 2: Layout for cutting

Now, fold your drill so the selvedges are together and the right sides are together. Something I noticed with making clothes is that they're usually cut along the fabric, so that's what I went with here. If it hadn't been right I'd have noticed by now. I made them three weeks ago, worn nearly every day since, so they're good.
Lay the biggest
pieces down
The little ones
will go around
Now, all pieces except anything that requires only one piece of fabric (change pocket and fly) goes around the bigger ones. Make sure they're as straight as possible: The straight grain is fairly important.
Make sure you add a seam allowance where required. You can do this any way you like, but I have a great little double wheel tool, with adjustable gap. One wheel goes around the edge and the other marks the new one.
The reason the raw edges folded is exciting is that you won't have to finish the edges at all. Very little on this garment was overlocked.
Also, the chain stitch will have to be replaced since I don't have a chain stitch machine (the 411g could have done it but I never got the special needle plate). What machine to sew jeans on? I chose the black 201K23. This was a "no brainer". Well, I could have used an industrial machine but it's getting a bit cold in Melbourne so a portable in the lounge it is. A couple of people, incidentally, have been quite surprised that a domestic machine was used to make these. New plastic machines would stand little chance. That's progress for you :-)

Step 3: Cutting

Well this is obvious. Cut the pieces out and leave pinned to your 'pattern'.
Cut an appropriate width extra for making belt loops. You should unpick one of the original loops completely and do some maths to work out how much you need. Cut the strips into their pieces and you don't need any seam allowance here.

Step 4: Make the Pockets

Something else I've noticed is the order to construct a garment. For any garment, pockets need to be made first. The top pockets are the hardest thing to do as usual, the rest is relatively straight forward. Make the pockets look like the old ones. You will be cutting the internal pocketing out of 100% cotton poplin. If you want it to look like the original, use white. Poplin is extremely cheap and a metre will do a lot of pockets.
The back poskets are 'patch pockets' and are really easy. Draw the pattern that matches the original (or a different one - your jeans) with a dressmaker's pencil and stitch in orange thread.
Could have been a better match, but I'm not going
stealing the design, just making for myself.

Pay careful attention to where the pocketing gets folded and where it needs to be sewn on the jeans. I got this wrong a couple of times before getting it right. This is why the pockets are a bit more challenging. The more experience you have the easier this will be.
original, holes marks where the rivets were.

Step 5: Prepare other garment pieces

Most of these are simply prepared with raw edges folded to the wrong side. Fantastic news, because all you need is a hot iron (turn it all the way up, to cotton/denim and possibly turn the steam on). If you have a steam press, this would be a good use for it. If you have to pin it, don't use plastic headed pins, might seem obvious but if you do they will definitely melt into your lovely fabric and ruin it (no I didn't do this).

The fly was the only piece I had to overlock, and my old Japanese Singer was easily able to do this. As soon as it's overlocked, compare the piece with the original, mark your buttonholes and make them straight away.
So far you've constructed the pockets and folded your pieces.

Step 6: Prepare your machine

You will need to have a machine threaded up with heavy orange thread and one with heavy black thread. I used the same one only due to space considerations, but 201s are very cheap and I do have two of them. Another thing to consider is this: Same thread in the bobbin. The heavy, strong cotton I used was very thick and I did have to make a couple of modifications to my 201K.
1. Fill bobbin, and notice that it doesn't take much thread. Just a fact, bobbin only holds a Certain amount. If it's three times thicker, it will be only a third as long.
2. Modify your bobbin tension. Pull the thread through the needle plate. Initially it will be extremely tight, but you must loosen the tension spring until it isn't otherwise you won't get abalanced stitch.
3. Change the needle. You will need at least a size 18, possibly a 20 but whatever size the thread goes through comfortable. Do a test sew. When mine stitched it sounded like it was hitting the table with a small mallet! Industrial needles will work in domestic machines. I used a 16x231 which have a round shank. Just make sure you put it in the right way.
4. Do a test sew. Use contrasting thread so you can clearly see that the stitch is balanced. I had to dial the top tension to 7 to balance the stitch.

Step 7: Sewing it together

When you sew the inner part of the legs, you must do the orange top stitching straight afterwards. You won't be able to do this after the outside has been stitched. Same goes with anything else that's top-stitched. Do it as soon as you can or you won't be able to do it at all.
Use the intact 'jean' to see how it should look. The fly is only on one side (the left) and the buttons will be put directly on the other, non-fly side.
The fly should match the detailed pictures you took. You did take detailed pictures, didn't you?
With the leg seams you can hide them by doing french seams (tends to be bulky) or the preferred method is flat-felled seams, which is how jeans are usually made. You can experiment with spare pieces of fabric. Normal seams are even acceptable, which you can finish by pinking or even overlocking (how modern). Rather than reinventing the seam, there's a good explanation of how to do this at

Step 8: Waistband and belt loops

This is easier than belt loops for a dress. These jeans were much easier because it doesn't matter if the stitching shows. Prepare by pinning the waistband to the rest and mark the position of the loops (compare with the original waistband).
Make the buttonhole.
Buttonholes use normal weight orange thread
Sew one side of the loops onto the waistband first, sew the waistband to the jeans then the other side to the jeans. This will be hard on your machine: You'll be sewing through many layers of heavy drill but with a 201K, if you can fit it under the foot, it will stitch it. This is also true with most of my machines.

Step 9: Buttons

Bought these from Clegs for about $3.75 a set. Extremely easy to install.
1. Punch a hole in the fabric where each one will go using a hammer and nail.
2. Using the hammer, hit the button's 'nail' into the other bit
That's all, Just hit it firmly and it stays put. I hear you can get buttons put on professionally but I doubt it would make any difference.

Well that's it. Want to see what I ended up with?
Not a great selfie.
They look better
in reality.
I also turned them up too much. The top stitching should have been much lower. I'll be fixing this today.
Total cost = $28.75 not including thread or needles. Yes I know you can buy a pair for less in K-mart but are they as good? Are they made by a person who loves doing this or a slave? Also, I have the pattern and experience now. Hmm... maybe a pair made in tartan or polka dots next :-D

If you don't have a 201, well first of all why not? They regularly sell for less than $100 (I've bought a dozen or so and none was more than $50) and secondly you can do this on any older full size machine. A model 15, 66 or 27/VS2 would hammer this garment into shape pretty easily too.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Embroidery on old sewing machines

Before you start

Make sure your test fabric has been backed with interfacing. You will get a much better result from doing this and even the 1911 book recommends a backing fabric.

Using your automatic patterns

I had a look at doing this a while ago on my 320K2 and it seemed to do a really nice job. Things I learned about embroidering on 1950s machines are:
1. Zig-zag is useful when creating a really thick line.
2. So is built-in patterns and pattern cams.
3. So is your machine's ability to do a really short stitch.
4. If you don't have a machine with cams, you really only need zig-zag. You can move the lever as it sews to make just about any pattern.

I have to say that my Pfaffs have been extraordinarily good at all of this, particularly at achieving a very small and accurate stitch length. The idea with all of this is to use the machine to do most of the work. Break the picture you want to make into patterns covered by your machine's cams then just go for it.

The Necchi Supernova is really unbelievably good at patterns, since it will go backwards to achieve the pattern you want. First time I saw the Necchi do this my jaw dropped. It was like an electronic machine, except totally mechanical and 60 years old. What a machine! I just have to fix mine and I'll be happier to experiment some more (transformer blew up).

Using free motion on a straight stitching machine

This needs to be explained first. Free motion refers to placing the work in an embroidery hoop, Removing your machine's presser foot so there isn't one there at all, and sewing slowly while moving the hoop to make the pattern in one hand while using the other hand to press down the fabric right next to the needle.
This technique is described in the Singer embroidery book of 1911 (no longer in copyright so go for it) and it specifically mentions models 66, 15 and 27. It's pretty much accepted that machines with drop in bobbins (the 66) are less satisfactory doing this due to the 90 degree turn the bobbin thread needs to make, leading to loose threads. I haven't experienced this at all and don't have a spare 66 to test, just quoting what I've read on various forums.
I tried this on a 319K (not a straight stitcher and a vertical bobbin machine) and the results were 'mixed'. Stitching in the normal direction worked beautifully, but when I attempted to go any other direction, the thread wouldn't catch. Here is the best I could do with the 319K (the word 'Mike'):
I had to turn the work so it was always sewing in the same direction.
Another problem I had was forgetting to put the presser bar lever down before sewing. The lack of a foot makes it easy to overlook, and if you do the bottom threads will be extremely loopy (because there's no tension at all on the top). Also on the 319, the feed dog was dropped.
The word 'Audrey' was done on my 1891 VS2 ('vibrating' bullet shuttle) and with this machine the feed dog doesn't drop so it needs to be covered (the feed dog interferes with the fabric movement). Any vintage buttonholer will have an appropriate plate, so screw this in place before starting.
I was surprised that the 1891 machine performed so much better than the 1950s vertical bobbin, but it definitely did, so I'll leave the green machine for automatic patterns and the VS2 for free motion work. The VS2 had no trouble at all with anything I tried and didn't skip a single stitch in any direction. I tested both of these machines by sewing a circle and the VS2 did it beautifully.

There are a lot of good instructions in the book, so if you like an older machine, this is for you. I'll be playing a lot more with it in the near future.