One of the unexpected benefits of creating historical and historically-inspired garments is that I have also being in the garment business is that I’ve also learned a lot about vintage sewing machines. While using a vintage sewing machine may been somewhat self-limiting, it’s actually been quite the reverse for both me and Adam and for the most part, I can pretty much do anything with a vintage sewing machine that I can do with with a modern machine. More importantly, with a little maintenance, vintage machines wear much better than their modern counterparts and deliver better results. Once we switched over, we’ve never looked back. We hope you enjoy this piece of reminiscing… 🙂
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