The Secret American Picker

“This is my LAST sewing machine! ” It frightens me to think how many times I’ve said this but…this one wasn’t for me. It was for Adam, and a surprise. I’ve been planning this for when he wasn’t around…so I’ve been quiet and secretly laughing when he posted the other machine blog yesterday.

For those who follow our Lily Absinthe blog, one of our business points is that we believe that in order to create high quality art, one needs high quality tools. The modern plastic machines tend to not fall into that category (in our opinion) so a conscious choice was made many years ago to use classic tools to perfect our craft. Did CF Worth, Dior, or Chanel use plastic? My point exactly. They still don’t.

My primary machine that I swear has a soul and is named for my Grandmother (Singer devotees tend to name their machines) is a Singer 201 in a semi-industrial Art Deco table. It was called: “The Tailor’s Model”, was marketed to designers of the era (1933-1950s) and has a foot pedal that has a treadle footprint, but no flywheel. Gear-driven, which means no belts…she  is smooth and powerful. She’s an amazing tool that has created hundreds of corsets and gowns since she came to live here. In early Singer advertisements, the 201 was called: “The Cadillac of Machines”..which means today, that would be a Maserati.


Then…my husband realized she was amazing as well. He’s going to Fashion School and it was time to find his own machine. Sadly, this isn’t the sort of thing one can go and just purchase. It’s a hunt…a Safari. You have to suck it up, get dirty, be prepared to drive anywhere and PICK.

I found him the machine head long ago (actually, it’s nicer than mine, it’s a 201 Centennial model and pristine) but it was in a “Library table”. It’s cute, but sized for 1950s housewives who (if you believe old advertisements) wear pearls and heels to sew. Adam is 6’1″, and has to work all hunched over this little table and it’s been hard for him…you know, women who look like this:


A close friend (Arlene, a talented designer and machine enabler) sent me a listing for an identical model of my machine and table, the pictures were so sad–it was covered in dust and dirt, and since the owner didn’t know what it was, it was referred to as a “treadle” and broken. It was (thankfully) in a shed and not rusty. It was time to Pick!

I drove up to Hesperia, (about an hour and a half away) and didn’t post anything showing my location lest I attract suspicion from Adam. Of course, it was in a filthy shed filled with who knows what…my favorite kind, but I had no time to look. The seller helped me knock off some of the dust, (pretty bad)  load it into my car, then he told me that it had belonged to his brother, who used it for upholstery. There’s always some story of a machine’s origins, but it’s usually about a Grandmother and an attic. So there was one owner , now us…a good pedigree.

So here she is in my SUV after a gleeful drive home. Adam has no idea that he is going to come home to a “Dream Machine” setup, and I have only a few hours to clean this old lady up and get her ready!


Notice that I remove the drawers and anything loose before moving the machine…of course, my neighbors laugh when I’m dragging yet another machine into the house, wearing a skirt and heels, and no–they never ask to help.


Molly came out to check out the new machine. Notice the dust and dirt…there was a layer nearly an inch thick when she was in the shed in Hesperia! Better dust than rust, though.


Checking what’s underneath the back plate. YUCK! Spiderwebs!


Be sure to wipe off all dust with a dry rag first, then go in for the dirty work. The Holy Trinity of restoration consists of: “Tri-Flo, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and PB Blaster”. The latter one has horrific fumes, but I was reduced to using that to unscrew the feed dog plate. I work in front of the front door, so the mail carrier is treated to an interesting scene…


A Picking Pleasure is to check out the treasures in the drawers. Old manual, lots of attachments for several kinds of machines (not all are alike) and the usual “rare” buttonholer set (the green container). Have you noticed in listings how everything is “rare”? Geesh. But wait…check out the note with the “W&G” on it! For you sewing machine peeps, you and I both know that means “Willcox and Gibbs” (another brand of machine) but sadly, there was nothing in the stash that was for that model. Sigh.


Et voila…my hard work has paid off. Adam will come home to his amazing new setup and I get to clean up all this dust around here that this little lady brought in. Note the embossed “yardstick” on the front (the yellow broken line) that is worn away where the previous stitcher sat…very cool.


She’s alive! She was made in 1936, an American Beauty, and ready to work. The happy ending is that we’ve decided to put his other machine into this new industrial table, and the new machine (in the video) will be going to live at the Tombstone house so I’ll have something fast and familiar to use for corsets and gowns. Adam is happy, I am happy (no more “hey, use your own machine!”) and we saved another machine from the dump. <3

Sewing Machine Safari Follow-Up, The Day After…

Image result for white sewing machine library cabinet model

Here’s a little follow-up on the White sewing machine. That I acquired yesterday…after doing a little research, I determined that it was a “Library Cabinet” model that was made in 1928. Here’s a little detail on the White Company itself:

Like many other sewing-machine manufacturers, White manufactured and labeled many sewing machines for retailers. After acquiring the Domestic Sewing Machine Company of Buffalo, New York, in 1924, White continued manufacturing the Domestic-made Franklin sewing machines for Sears Roebuck & Co. Domestic became a fully-owned subsidiary of White. In 1926, under the leadership of company president A S Rodgers, the company was reorganised as the White Sewing Machine Corporation. From the mid-1920s through 1950s, White was the main supplier (and by the early 1930s, was the sole supplier) of sewing machines to Sears Roebuck & Co. Models sold through Sears included the Minnesota, Franklin and Kenmore. They were basically White models labelled with the Sears company’s brand names. In the late 1920s, the company introduced the first-ever sewing machine with a flat crinkle finish. The mark-resistant paint was supposed to be easier on the operator’s eyes because it did not give off glare and was also more resilient to wear than the traditional japanned finish. In place of decalcomania decorations, fancy scrollwork was cast into the head of the machine. This kind of “modern” finish became popular in the late 1920s and 1930s, and other manufacturers, including Singer and National, followed with their own crinkled-finished machines but without the cast decorations.
That was taken from this article.
Then I proceeded to take it apart and clean and lubricate the insides. The machine was frozen (it had been stored in a horse barn for an indefinite amount of time) and the cabinet definitely needed some TLC:


Murphy’s Oil Soap for the cabinet…


And clean out a few things from inside…


And voilà! Now it works:

Going On A Sewing Machine Safari…


Yesterday I decided to take a break and head out to Acton to check out a Craigslist Ad for a vintage sewing machine…and I came home with a 1930s era black embossed White sewing machine. 🙂


Obviously a “before” picture but the table is sound and the machine is frozen up but a little elbow grease is ok by me. 🙂 I love these old embossed iron machines, they look like old gravestone markers.


She was filled to the brim with old advertising, tools, and bobbins from both the Singer and White brands. So I have my work cut out for me restoring this to operational condition. 🙂

Helldorado Diary- Sunday

Helldorado Diary, Sunday. Parade Day and I’m finally going to go to town. The bodice still needs the silk tulle neckline filler and the covered buttons but it looks like I’ll be out on time… 🙂


At last! No dress drama, off to the parade! My usual mirror selfie has great significance because this is the FIRST TIME EVER (since 2003) that I was ready on time to see the Helldorado Parade so that makes this a trophy shot! 🙂


Tombstone’s annual “Homecoming” Old Timey Parade and Festival happens every third Sunday of October. Pioneer Era families return to visit and tourists invade. This is the largest event of the year in this sleepy Old West Paradise.


Shriners on parade in front of the Birdcage Theater

And here’s proof that we had fun and rode a stagecoach in town. Now I know why Victorians had “travelling clothes”. 🙂


All Aboard!

And here’s a good view of me and my new dress:


And finally, the party’s over…I am wearing something far more comfortable than this! 🙂


Helldorado Diary- Friday

Helldorado Diary, Friday…have to finish my bodice, so the terrier peeps got me up early to stare at the walls of last night’s work aftermath. 🙂


The workroom after a long night…


And Mac waking us up…

OK, and for a better look at my new daytime ensemble that’s under construction. I am determined to finish the bodice and wear it in town on Saturday… 🙂


Carefully tipping my corset boning on an Eastlake table leaf…yikes! :/


And the Terrier Peeps in a more “formal” portrait…they pretty much go with us everywhere and are our constant companions. 🙂