Sewing with a vintage machine

cherylnswJanuary 21, 2006

2 days ago I bought my dream sewing machine, a handcranked Singer. It's a 128-4 and was made in December 1920, I found that out thanks to the lovely folks at Singer. They also had a free download of the 128-3 machine manual, treadle version of mine so I was able to learn how to thread it and put the needle in correctly. It sews beautifully. I also oiled and cleaned it up. Now I want to use it, trying to work out what to sew first, whether to go for something old fashioned just for the fun of it or one of the pieces I already have planned.

Does anyone here use their vintage machines? If so what do you make on them? Eventually I'd like to make a quilt top on mine.

I am thinking that this won't be the last vintage machine I buy, I'd like a treadle one next.

Where do you keep your machines, on display or where they are used? I've been able to aquire (AKA steal from my parents yard - they carried it partway) the castiron frame for a singer treadle machine. We are going to clean off all the old flakey paint and rust, then it's going to be painted black (apparently it's how they first came) and my husband is going to put a wooden top on it. The machine will be placed in front of a window in my sewing room for good light. It will mean I have to make a cover for the case to prevent any fading but it's a southfacing window which means it rarely gets sunlight so it shouldn't really matter.

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My 1947 Singer 221 Featherweight, who I named Gracie, is wonderful for piecing my quilt blocks. I've been making blocks for our birthday exchange over on the Quilting Forum and they turned out so nice and neat, even more precise than with my "bells and whistles" Viking.

I would love to have a treadle someday when funds and space allow. I have the oak drawers from my grandmother's Singer treadle but I don't know what happened to the machine itself. Another family member has the iron base.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 9:43AM
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I sew on a vintage, but not as vintage as yours. A 1964 that I sew on almost everyday and a 1951 Featherweight that I use occasionally. My grandmother had a motor put on her treadle, Mother has it, her aunt's 1940's singer and a 1920's I'm guessing; singer that the case looks like a casket. They are all for decoration. I'm guessing they all still work, but just aren't practical to use.
Sounds like you've got a fun projects ahead of you.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 9:44AM
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I was looking at cover styles yesterday and saw the ones that look like a casket, don't know whether I like one. Mine is the bentwood one, without the raised sides. My husband put a bid on a nice look machine cover yesterday, it's got Reynold's on the side. Told him now he'll need to find a machine to match it.

I gave my little nieces and son a turn on the machine the other day, now my son wants to make something on it, which is great because I don't have to worry so much about him hurting himself. He's used my modern machine before while sitting on my lap, I'd be too worried about him sewing his hand with that.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 8:30PM
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I don't have the treadle but have the cabinet and legs (have to paint those black, they are now a nasty beige/gold). My mother used it to do her homework on ('38). It's always been used as a desk as far as I can remember.

I did have the privilege of sewing on my grandmother's rarely used White Rotary with no reverse after I cleaned it up for her and made a knit outfit with it...just had to change the needle to ball point and lighten the presser foot pressure a bit. You could probably do the same with the treadle machine.

The nice thing about vintage machines is they aren't picky about sewing over pins...I'm a pin baster at heart.

I had to look where you lived. In the northern hemisphere, anything facing a south exposure gets fried by the sun.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2006 at 8:11AM
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Yep down here the sun blasts from the north.

Well the question to what should be made first has been answered, I gave my 10 year old son a quick turn on the machine a couple of days ago. He's been bugging me ever since to let him sew something. So today I searched for fabric and pattern and after dinner I cut out a pair of boxer shorts for him. Then I sat with him at the machine while he sewed the seams, didn't bother with any seam finishes I just got him to topstitch the seam. I used a magnet to act as a stitch guide and he kept his seams fairly straight. After he went to bed I stitched the hems and the waistband.

The only problem I had was that every now and then the thread in shuttle tightened up and it held the bobbin in making it hard to remove from the cover, I soon worked out how to remove it with the help of a pin.

I rarely pinbaste, but had to on this because ds wouldn't have been able to keep the seam edges together, especially with only one hand.

Next weekend I am taking the kids camping and I told hubby that I could actually take the machine with me.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2006 at 9:58AM
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I have a Singer Treadle machine. It was made in the early 1900's. I know that it sews but you guys have tempted me to dust it off and try it out again. I learned how to sew on a machine like this in grade school in the 1940's

    Bookmark   January 22, 2006 at 10:34AM
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I just gave an old White Rotary in a bentwood case (portable) to a guild friend. Her husband likes to try to repair old machines and get them running again, then they give the machine to someone who could use one. I knew that I didn't have the time or money to get the old thing running again and I will be glad if it can be of use to someone.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2006 at 11:13PM
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I have an old machine that folds into the table. I do not know anything about sewing machines. On the side it says CALANDA 620. It also says PFAFF and has JC4 on the bottom. How do I tell if this is worth anything? Thank you.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 3:58PM
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I have an old Singer which I purchased back in the early l980's from a dealer. My two main wants were - that it sewed and had an original cabinet. Mine is not a fancy machine or cabinet....just a plain jane workhorse and it suits me fine. I like to play around with it and have been pleased to have it to sew over heavier fabrics in a pinch when my "modern" machines couldn't seem to handle them. Funny thing is it seems everyone who sees it has a story of some kind - My mother/grandmother/great aunt had a machine/cabinet like that.........and it goes on to the things they made or what it sounded like to a youngsters ears. The stories are the most interesting to me - my absolute favorite is that my own Uncle has been over and seen the machine a number of times and is quite indignant that I have my grandmother's old machine - the one he remembers her having when he was a child. No matter the number of times I tell him it isn't Grandma's old machine , he won't believe me. I wish it was my grandmother's but oh well, I am just happy to have this machine to turn to when I feel the need. I often wonder what stories it could tell if it could really speak, who were it's owners over the years and what did it sew and where did it live........if these old machines could talk what a wealth of stories they could tell.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 7:50PM
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I sew on "people-powered" machines 100 % of the time. I even use them for my machine quilting business.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 10:11PM
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My family recently purchased two antique Singers, one from the 1920's and I'm trying to get it working again. My main question is with threading the bobbin. How do you do it? I am new at sewing so the original instruction manual isn't making sense to me.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 11:34PM
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Years ago before i married I sewed on my mother's treadle machine. I sewed anything. As long as you do not need the reverse or a zigzag, and you can made quite a few things without them. you just use other techniques. I think i could turn out a good garment with one today.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2008 at 3:20AM
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I have several vintage machines (including 2 hand cranked and one treadle). The hand cranked machine is perfect for teaching my 10 year old grandson to sew. It's so easy for him to control the speed. He loves using it.

Sometimes I use them just for the fun of it. I love these old machines!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2008 at 6:59PM
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Celena--Sorry I didn't see your post sooner, I've been out of town for five days. Before I can help you with the bobbin threading, I need to know what model you have. Is is a round bobbin machine or a long bobbin with the bullet-shaped shuttle (bobbin case).


    Bookmark   December 25, 2008 at 2:27PM
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My newer Pfaff machine has to be repaired. So, I have dug out my 1964 portable Pfaff Calanda machine, it still works! BUT, unfortunately, I can't remember how to tread it, so everytime I use it the thread breaks, can anyone help me? Thanks

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:52PM
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I do most of my sewing with a Pfaff Varimatic (not vintage, though discontinued) and occasionally a Juki serger (also not vintage and now discontinued). But I own a lovely, lovely Featherweight and a Singer 27K/28K treadle. The Featherweight works fine for piecing, but lacks the oomph to sew heavier apparel fabric. The treadle is also a beautiful machine in a gorgeous quarter sawn oak cabinet and I keep meaning to get it brought up to working condition. I know a shop that could do it, but it's just so heavy to lift that I keep putting it off. However, after reading this thread, I moved my treadle out of the south facing window where it has been for the past couple of years!

My final machine is a Singer 401 from the early 1960's. I bought it for one of my daughters but she never took it out of her car. After driving around with it for a year, the tension mechanism broke (surprise). I have it at the shop while a new part is located -- possibly made new. I told her that if she ever decides she wants it back, and I still have it, it's hers. Until then, it will be mine. She really doesn't have any interest in sewing. This was me pushing her, so I'm just as well pleased to get it back. It's a good machine.

If I got a chance to find a Bernina 1008 at a good price, I would jump on it, too. My taste is decidedly for fine quality mechanical machines, preferably metal not plastic. If I ever decided to get an embroidery machine, I would get a dedicated machine, not a general purpose one that also did embroidery.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 2:13PM
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I have two machine that I sew on. One upstairs and one downstairs. I use either interchangably depending on where I'm working. My upstairs machine is a 1966 dressmaker that I paid $1 for a a yard sale. It sews like a dream. My downstairs model is a 1924 newhome treadle machine that I bought at another yard sale for $25. It needed some cleaning up and a new belt but sews great now. I keep it folded up in it's cabinet in my living room and use it as a wall table. My newer machines live in my closet until I need a button hole sewed.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 6:07PM
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