Wednesday, 14 December 2016

How to insert sleeves with ease

Sleeves are always larger than the holes they fit into due to 'ease' which makes the garment easier to wear but also means the sleeves are always larger than the space they go into. You must therefore sew the larger sleeve into the garment without creating any tucks or pleats. Without using a special technique, you're up against a difficult task. The first time I tried this, I used the technique laid out on the pattern instructions (this one). The second time, I tried to not do this and the result was immensely inferior.
The lesson I learned was that shortcuts will waste your time. If you care about the result, you'll rip out the seam, fix up the work and go back to the old techniques, which work. This technique is described in all the older sewing books and pattern instructions. Over time you'll do it automatically and although it takes a lot longer, it will be perfect. 
The summary is that you make two parallel loose stitches inside the seam, the inner one quite close to it, and use the threads to gather up the ease evenly. Here are the instructions:

Loosen your machine's tension a bit and sew two lines of thread inside the seam allowance. I make them 1/4" (6mm) from the edge and 1/4" from there (inner one should be about 1/8" from the seam allowance). It doesn't actually matter if one is on one side of the S.A. and the other's just outside, it will still work.
Only stitch between the single notch (front of garment) and first of the double notch and use the longest stitch length.

Loosely stitched, longest length, between notches

When you've done this the bottom threads will be a bit loose, so hold the thread ends and pull the fabric away so the sleeve gathers. 
Hold looser threads, push fabric, smooth it out
Match the notches (especially the central one, halfway between the front and back notches) to those on the garment and pin in place. Adjust the gathering so it's even and exactly the right size (this will take some practice) and when it's right, carefully hand baste it in place and remove the pins. The basting takes the place of the pins, which are nowhere near as good at holding the two pieces together properly.
Re-set the tension for normal sewing (was loose for the gathering thread), remembering to:
1. Sew it on your machine, with the gathered side down at normal stitch length. 

2. Sew very slowly and have your hands feeling the fabric before it is sewn and smoothing out the gathering. 
3. Stop every few inches to check underneath, to ensure you don't sew anything else.
4. Check on the right side that it's perfect, and make corrections if it's not.

When finished, perform a check. Look for tucks/pleats, and if there are any, just unpick that area and re-stitch it.
If all is good you can now remove the gathering and basting threads.
I've sewn well over two hundred sleeves and this is how I get it right first time with no tucks. It takes a lot longer and some practice but you'll rarely have to reach for the seam ripper (at least for sleeves!) and your sleeves will be perfect.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Advantages of a spool holder with vintage machines

On a Facebook group I'm in someone just posted that they saved a machine that was going to be dumped because the spool pin had broken off. Sure these can be replaced, but whether you do or not, I thought about it and would probably not bother.

What has changed

Until the 1970s, domestic machines had only vertical thread spools because domestic thread was wound on from the side in a neat stack and was expected to be placed onto a vertical spool pin where it spins as the thread unwinds.
Top is from the 1960s, only straight-wound here.
Nowadays thread is wound on in a crisscross way and is designed to come off the top of the spool (as is industrial thread on large cones). It tends to twist if taken off from the side (or untwist - neither is good). Apparently the older style thread is still available but I don't see it often.

What to do

You can easily overcome the disadvantage of hard to find straight wound thread.
Before buying a thread stand, I simply stuck a pin in the wooden window frame above my treadle cabinet and placed a cone of thread under it. The thread was brought straight up and around the pin then down to the machine.

I would (in fact I did) replace this with an industrial thread cone stand and now have the thread go directly onto the first guide. I happen to have a lot of industrial thread cones I paid nothing or almost nothing for, from op (thrift) shops, hard rubbish and garage sales, and it would be ridiculous to waste this. It works for modern thread too so I can use any thread now.

A More Technical Explanation on YouTube

Someone far more experienced than I has made a video about this and made it available on YouTube. I urge everyone to watch it if you have a vintage machine.

So buy or make one and you can feel happier that your stitches won't be twisted, your thread won't break as easily and you can save money by buying in bulk.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bernina 708 Broken Gear Replacement

A neighbour sent me an SMS and asked if I repaired sewing machines. It was broken, as in the bobbin gear was jammed. I freed that up then cleaned and serviced it for her (she and her husband are lovely people).
I noticed the zig-zag doing bizarre movements and took a close look under the top.
Very common problem on Berninas
Okay, ordered one from England, an eBay store. I won't mention which one because I don't want to be giving recommendations. Just search for Bernina 708 cam gear and you'll find it.

Replacing the gear

Searching for instructions led me to here. It's for a 730 sure, but both have cams right? His looked a bit complex, hence the delay. I was planning on making the tools at my dad's tomorrow then just out of curiosity unscrewed the (three) grub screws. The shaft started sliding out very easily!
I got it all the way out and lifted the gear out.
Putting the new one on was a matter of removing the screws holding the cam to the gear (two flat screws) and transferring it, then putting it into the machine and replacing the shaft.
I tightened up the grub screws and of course the zig-zag wouldn't work.
After half an hour of removing the gear and replacing it in a slightly different position, I realised what a waste of time this was. Regardless of what I did, the swing always started at the bottom of the needle's travel!

Setting the zig-zag timing

The hard bit was fixing the swing. Before doing this you should look at the cam and see how it works. The swing happens only in the ridge between the lower flat and the raised one and you can set it like this:
1. Loosen the two screws holding the worm gear
Unscrew both of these
2. Now the worm gear can move freely.
3. Make sure the zig-zag width is at maximum.
4. Move the hand wheel toward you until the needle is on its way up and has already passed through the needle plate.
5. Now move the cam until the flat is just about to start swinging and tighten one of the screws.
6. Check that the swing occurs only when the needle is above the plate. The swing must finish at the same needle height on the other side. You have to make sure the swing is the same on both sides. Once you do, tighten the other screw. You don't want the worm gear to move.
7. Check it again, then test by sewing at maximum zig-zag width.

Certainly a lot easier than expected. The replacement gear has an aluminium base, and the original was steel. Not sure if this will affect the machine but if the plastic is the same quality as the original you can expect it to last 40 years. Not bad!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Bernina Favorit 540 1958

This machine was, let's just say, a bargain.
It's a home industrial machine with built-in cams! It came with an 80 watt Sew Tric motor which was almost fouling the knee lift mechanism. Yes, it has a knee lift! Just about everything here makes this an exciting machine. It's Swiss, knee lift, industrial, full rotary hook and pattern cams in a single machine. Additionally, it can be connected to an external industrial motor or a treadle. Can you see why I'm excited about this? It  is exactly the same size as a Singer and the hinge holes are in exactly the same place, but the front is chunkier than a Singer and in my treadle cabinet the front flap wouldn't go back in place. A little disappointed but to be honest I might have been overwhelmed and had a stroke if it got any better.

 The 540, 640 740 and 840 are all designated as 'Favorit' by Bernina (as opposed to the 530 etc. which are all 'Record'). All of them have a full rotary hook (they go faster), patterns, etc.
They also all have a plastic (nylon) cam drive gear. They do break, so I checked mine carefully but it is intact at this time. They're a royal pain to put back (I have one waiting for the drive gear to arrive from England so will make a blog entry about it).
There are 12 patterns on the 540 and 640 and 20 patterns on the 740 and 840. All of them are basically a heavier, faster flat bed Record.
Mine was missing its knee lift (slightly annoying) and the foot controller (more annoying). Since the motor was kind of generic anyway I replaced it with an 85W Wernard, with new wiring and a Wernard foot controller. To me this is still rather under powered for this machine and I'd really like to get the cabinet inside and mount the 1/4 hp Singer motor to it. It will easily handle the power and I'd only be worried about low speed control.
The picture from the ad
After a good clean and oil (with tri-flow)
Someone asked me the difference between the 540 and 640, and the manual has a whole page dedicated to answering this:

This machine will be a keeper, I'm pretty sure. It's extremely smooth, has the flexibility of zig-zag, and tough enough for anyone. Can't wait to get her into production!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Singer 201K2

After watching The Dressmaker I wanted a 201K2 and it seems that these were never sold in Australia. Thought of bringing one from the U.K. where they're not that uncommon, or converting a 201-2 from 110V but this didn't seem sensible.
Exactly a month ago I won one! It appeared on eBay and finished at 3:30pm when nobody would be watching. I still paid $111.50 for a machine that was in really awful condition. The wiring was actually melted and it needed a complete overhaul.

So, I got it working by my birthday (2nd April) and sold all my other 201s because now I had a rare one. Possibly a bit premature, the motor made a loud rumbling noise and wasn't at all the quiet rolls-royce purr I was expecting.
In the middle of sewing a jacket today I stopped and decided this was a great time to recondition the motor. Nicholas Rain Noe has an excellent article on this and the U.S. version is the same, just for a different mains voltage. I believe the grease might have had something to do with the reduction in the noise but it's still not whisper quiet.
Elusive 201K2
In the first scene of the film Kate Winslet is carrying an empty case. How can I tell? This baby weighs almost as much as she does.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Singer 206, 306, 319 and 320 timing

There are loads of these around and a lot for sale, so one you've modified the bobbin case to use normal needles, you'll probably want to learn how to ensure the hook is timed. Why? Good question, because these models have a tendency to go off due to the screws holding the bobbin drive to its shaft not being tight enough or maybe you tried to sew something too heavy and it slipped slightly.
This never happens with straight sew models, or I haven't ever had to set hook timing on them but quite a few 319s I've bought have needed to be timed. The other thing that commonly causes it is some dim wit in the past has tried to adjust the hook timing thinking it will allow them to use 15x1 needles.

Here is the procedure to check and correct the timing:
Step 1: Remove the end plate (cover of the needle bar) and the needle plate (slide plate) and tilt the machine back. Needle should be in the central position. Remove the bobbin case.
Step 2: Move the hand wheel toward you until the needle has descended to its lowest point. Now you need to check the marks on the top of the needle bar:
At the very bottom, the lines on needle bar and machine should line up
 If they don't line up, either the needle height has also been changed or (more likely) the static mark on the machine has been moved. If the height is wrong, you'll find out in a few minutes, so assume it's the little plate that has moved. You can see there's a screw just under it. Undo it and move the plate so they align.
Step 3: Move the hand wheel while looking at the needle bar marks. Stop when the lower needle bar mark lines up.
Needle has started to rise a little
Now check the position of the needle
Hook is exactly behind the needle, and should almost be touching it.
If the hook is not in the right position, Loosen the two screws holding the bobbin drive in place slightly and move the bobbin drive until the hook is the right spot.
Loosen (do not remove) the screws holding the bobbin drive to its shaft.
Now tighten the screws back up and do the test again. If it's still perfect (it might have moved when you were tightening the screws) make sure the screws are quite tight and check the needle bar height. Put the needle in the left position and turn the hand wheel until the hook is just behind the needle. The hook should be just above the eye of the needle.

I think this procedure is pretty important to know, even if you only have one machine. If you can't get the tension just right on your swing needle machine you can be fairly sure the hook timing has wandered a little.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Servicing your 201K part 2 - cleaning

This is really quite easy to do. There are two things to remember when oiling your old domestic machine:
1. Clean first, then oil
2. Only one drop per oiling point, except the presser bar wick
If you want to do it properly, you should remove the hook mechanism, which may never have been done. Here's how to do it:
pull slide plate out
angle it so it comes out, avoid damaging the enamel
remove needle, foot and bobbin
Clean out the dirt. Most will be really filthy
nylon brushes are excellent
This is removed next. It's going to be hard. If you can't, clean around it
remove feed dog screws
prise these two lugs outwards a little
lugs out, wedge a screwdriver so hook comes off when wheel turned
lugs have moved, hook is ready to lift off

clean everything so it's at least this shiny
to reassemble, the screwdriver will be on the other side, wheel turned opposite way
Now, put the screw back in and tighten it. I mean it has to be pretty tight. Put a single drop of oil where the hook rotates (metal against metal - general rule of oiling, as is the single drop on each oiling point).
Replace the bobbin and slide plate. Again, careful not to damage the enamel and put it in at an angle.
Well, now we have that over, move on to the end plate. Remove it and notice that every piece of moving steel has a small oil hole. If it doesn't or you can't find it, oil it anyway.
Take note of how stiff the hand wheel is before oiling this then compare it again afterwards. It's my experience that this area contributes most to a machine's stiffness, so you'll be doing the most good here.
turn the hand wheel, oil every joint and the needle bar
Here are just two points. Exactly one drop each.
Also soak the brown wick at the top of the presser bar. Might take 5 or so drops, but don't overdo it or oil will ruin your sewing for months. You can see in that last picture that the top arrow points to a hole, the bottom is pointing at the needle bar. Exactly one drop each is a very simple rule.
Now, tip the machine back. I rested mine on the lid turned sideways. Turn the hand wheel to see what moves and oil it. Remove the two black metal covers and oil in there too (marked with arrows), or vaseline would be better for this, since it will stay a lot longer. Vaseline closely matches Singer's gear and motor grease, which isn't available any more.
If aluminium, the serial number is stamped underneath

At this point, if you're used to modern machines you might be wondering why on Earth you have to do all this when you don't on the modern plastics. Here's why: Plastics have oil included in the plastic and when it runs out, if your machine lasts that long, you are expected to throw the machine away and buy a new one. When your 201K was made, this would have been unthinkable. I developed the habit of cleaning and oiling after every eight hours of sewing and be happy that my machine sews a perfect stitch and will last forever. At the same time, replace your sewing needle. 
Just a few places that need a drop
There are actually quite a number of places that need oil underneath, so make sure you spend some time on this. The manual has quite good instructions too. Yes Singer intended for the user to service their own machine! How about that?
Several oil points on the top
Finally, remove the plate at the back
someone has greased it
It appears that someone has applied a bit of grease to the gears. Singer recommends oil, and oil on the mechanism on the left (which usually gets oil from the oiling hole on the top). If there's heavy grease on the gears it will noticeably slow the motor and you should clean it off. This grease doesn't seem to have affected my machine so I left it alone.

Now, the other things are to look at the drive belt. If it needs a new one, do not buy a round rubber belt: Those belts cause the motor to strain. Get a fibre belt like the machine is supposed to use and adjust the motor so this belt is loose. It is not like a car's fan belt, where tight is good. If you over tighten the drive belt on a sewing machine it will slow the motor and wear the bushings out very quickly. It will also give you poor control over the speed, so keep it as loose as possible without slippage.
The original bulbs were 25W and were extremely good. When I buy a machine it normally has the original Singer bulb or a 1960s 25W replacement that still works. Really, they made things that well a long time ago. Still, they get very hot and you might be better off with a 15W replacement. They produce the same amount of light but the burn you sustain when you touch it is only second degree instead of third. Saves on hospital bills and skin grafts. I buy Riva bulbs which are exactly the same size as the original and they're still made in Germany.

The exterior

If the exterior is a bit dirty, clean it with a cloth and some sewing machine oil. It's the only substance guaranteed not to damage the finish. Only down side is that it's so gentle you might be there a while. Pure car wax works nicely if you want a deep sheen. The later ones were painted with enamel (earlier were Japanned) so you can use car paint products on keeping it beautiful.

Remember: Important

201s have the needle flat to the left and thread right to left

Servicing your 201K part 1

In Australia and in the U.K. there are loads of these machines around. There were literally millions of them made because they were so good Singer made them from the 1930s until the 1960s. A straight stitching machine in the 1960s that cost more than any zig-zag, free arm machine and people still bought them. Why? What's so good about them?
Firstly, Singer made these with special hardened steel gears, so they were as tough as nails. They had an incredibly simple system of getting the bobbin moving (just one bar underneath the machine) which performed a perfect stitch on both the top and bottom, and it could stitch everything from silk to leather. Just about any machine can be made to sew through leather but the 201K can do it easily**.
** As a side note, sewing through leather is easy enough, but leather tends to get dragged back by the presser foot and will bend and break your needles as well as screw up the stitching (and with leather, there's no second chances). To properly sew leather on a sewing machine you need a walking foot (even feed foot) which moves the work from the top as well as the bottom (the regular feed dog), or a wheel feed and foot, which Singer made several models of.

Now, next thing you should know is that the 201K has two forms: The early cast iron one and the later aluminium one. Here they are:
1936 201K3 cast iron weighs a ton!

The 201K23 (201P) weighs half as much
They look radically different because aluminium is so much weaker than iron that Singer had to redesign the head to make it stronger. The stitching mechanism is identical in both machines.
Technically the cast iron version is a 201K3 and the aluminium one is a 201K23, but it's really not important.

Electrical first

Okay, so you have your 201K on the bench, what's the first thing to do? Firstly, check the wiring, particularly between the motor and light. You can see that the one in the photo isn't that great, but I'm aware of it and will be replacing it. Replacement is not trivial and I have a blog entry devoted to this. See here for replacement of the Singerlight wiring.
This is usually the wire that goes first

Check both sides of the bakelite plug

1950s vinyl insulation does not last forever, especially in Australia. It cracks and flakes off. I heard recently from a guy in NSW who said that all old Singer motors are death traps and none of them would ever pass a safety inspection. He has good reason to say that: He imports and sells cheap quality Chinese replacement motors.
Here is my experience: I have fixed literally hundreds of electrical machines and none has ever been a problem. Also, I had one that had been tested and had a safety tag on it when I bought it, so I don't really believe this. If you choose to buy a second hand sewing machine that doesn't have a safety tag on it, you are expected to take full ownership for getting it tested, and the device will have a label saying just this. You have been warned. If you don't know what you're doing and the wiring is suspect, don't plug it in or you might kill yourself.
The wiring is by far the most important thing to check in the same way the brakes are if you buy a second hand car. It's the thing most likely to injure or kill you if it's not good.

Foot Controller

These came with radio suppression capacitors, which are a problem when they fail. Their purpose is to suppress AM radio interference and they also suppress some of the sparking inside the motor. When they fail, they bridge the electrical connections inside the controller and your machine starts sewing at full speed all by itself! All sewing machine repair people I know remove the capacitors. I wrote an earlier blog entry here on these, and the example was the twin capacitors. Here is the procedure in pictures for the single capacitor version:
turn over, remove screws, push the button on the other side
It's the grey thing. I've disconnected one side
disconnected. It would work perfectly well now, but remove it

before putting it back, drop of oil here and around the button

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Unplug your Machines when not in use

If your machine has a bakelite foot controller you should never leave it plugged in when not in use. 
Singer tells you this in (some of) their manuals.
From Singer 201K manual

How they Work

These controllers use a stack of thin carbon discs which are compressed by the button you step on to allow current to flow. A friend of mine in Canada has a blog which explains this in detail:

Why Unplug?

There are three good reasons I can think of to unplug your machines:
1. Over time current starts to leak and this can make them hot. This heat can build up enough to start a fire, which can happen when you aren't home or when you're asleep in bed.
2. The higher voltage ones (220V/240V) were fitted with a capacitor to prevent AM radio interference. When this breaks, it short circuits and the machine suddenly goes at full speed. Yes it can happen when you're not at home! 
3. Your machines are fascinating to kids, who love to play with them. If the machine is plugged in, kids are more likely to be injured. When my machine isn't in use I unthread it, place a piece of fabric under the foot, foot down and needle down.

You can certainly tune bakelite controllers so there's less danger, but the best thing you can do is to get into the habit of unplugging them when you're finished sewing. Don't be frightened of these. They're original to the machines and perform very well, so there's no reason to get rid of them. Knowing how they work is valuable.
A few years back I did an entry on fixing them up. Not as comprehensive as archaicarchane's, just removal of the capacitor.

What do they look like again?

Not all carbon disc controllers look like this:
Singer Bakelite Foot Controller

Some of them look like this:
Husqvarna controller from early 1970s
Even clam shell controllers use carbon discs: My daughter's 1970 Singer has them, and a generic Taiwanese replacement I opened up also had them.
I was surprised they all didn't use coiled (resistance) wire, but they don't.
That's all. You've been advised to do it and told why, the rest is up to you. Have fun!

Friday, 1 January 2016

1937 Home Journal Pattern

Wasn't going to write about this until it was finished but every time I go to a Spotlight sale, I seem to bump into a fellow blogger. Same as last time, she was going through the patterns ($5 everything but Vogue sale ended today). I was not this time: Instead it was a frantic search for a zipper after realising I'd nearly finished and shops won't be open tomorrow (new year's day). Glad I did, thornberry is always fun, and seeing her reminds me of blogging for some reason :-)

So, a few months ago (okay, six) a friend asked me to make her a 1930s dress.

Here is the pattern:
The one on the right
Here's where I am up to now:
The finishing will take a bit of work, but need to add zipper, shoulder pads and facings.
It's after midnight now (happy new year) so I'm off to bed. I'll edit tomorrow and detail the details. This pattern was not easy and the bodice was quite challenging. Measuring the pleats was the most difficult. More tomorrow.

Okay maybe not quite :-)

Instructions are:

After the patternmaker adjusted the pattern for our friend, I went to work on making it happen. The fabric chosen was linen or a linen blend. Whatever it is, it takes the iron on maximum and with steam to rid it of a crease!
The first thing I needed to do was create those pleats. It was decided to make the contrast yellow so I decided that on my 1959 Pfaff 360 I could do zig-zags very close together (Pfaffs are excellent at doing this). I'd say about 85% of time and effort went into the front bodice and this is the hardest piece I've ever made. This means a lot to be learned.
I created the pleats first then the darts. The pleat measurements have to be extremely accurate. If not the neck facings (not in the pattern, but the depression was a while ago now, so splash out a little) won't fit. Use steel ruler, edge of your table or both to ensure absolute straightness of these pleats. Pin, baste and sew, and when everything is okay (you might well have to unpick - not worth it if you overlook anything) you need to create the contrast. Make sure the stitch width is almost zero and do a test before going near the production garment. The pattern is marked where you must stop. The bottom part should be pleated but the pleat edge is not attached.
I chose to put ric-rac (or rick-rack as it used to be called) on. I pinned and basted, but found it easier to attach it by hand than to machine stitch: The machine was too hard to keep between the waves and it would be almost impossible to get a zig-zag even close. A treadle may have given sufficient control for it to work, but honestly, with colour matched thread, the hand stitches are not seen anyway and I had absolute control.
The bust darts next. These are just as normal darts, and a hint with darts is that if the wearer has a larger bust, make sure the points of the darts come to a smooth point.
The rest of it was very straight forward, so we made another addition. Added some Petersham ribbon to the waist to prevent stretching. This doesn't show at all, and is just a nice added feature to ensure the shape is retained.

Seam finishes

I've been told that pinking looks terrible and makes clothes look home made. Well, in 1937 almost all garments were pinked, especially if they were home made.
Well, very few factories had overlockers back then. If you're thinking French seams, the linen is too thick and the seams would end up a bit bulky.
So I pinked every seam.
Pinked seam, with bias binding
That reminds me: Used this wide binding on the bottom edge. Sewn right sides together then blind hemmed it. This takes a long time but why else would it look as close to the picture? I don't take shortcuts.
Only the belt remains. I've ordered a load of original deco buckles from the U.K. (they seem very common there) and will update the entry when they come through. It shouldn't take long to make a self belt for this dress. Will update again after she's modelled it.