Threads Across Time

I received a call from a gentleman this week who had been referred to me by an antique shop I work with, as he had his mom’s sewing machines, and was taking care of sorting her house as she recently moved into an assisted living apartment.

His mother (Anne) purchased her 301 in 1952 when she was 26 years old, and at this time this was a major purchase as the machine was nearly $300.00 on it’s own, and she also purchased the cabinet to go with the machine. In today’s dollars and factoring for inflation that was the same as spending $4000.00 today in 2022.

That was a great deal of money for a straight stitch machine but the 301/301A is arguably the finest straight stitch machine ever made, they are lightweight and full sized, sew at 1600 stitches a minute, and are built like a Swiss watch. After 70 years of pretty regular use the machine still looks and runs like new.

In 1953 Singer made a few small changes to the 301, adding an A at the end to indicate that these were made in Anderson, South Carolina, and a few decals were changed as later machines did not say “Made in the U.S.A.” across the top.

Her son said his father ran a second hand shop and his mom studied / taught Home Economics and was a gifted seamstress, making lots of clothes in a time when off the peg clothing was still a spendier proposition. She was probably just like my own mom in this regard.

He said his mom is doing well and that he would tell her that her machine would be well taken care of, and that we would make sure it found a new home where it might be loved and appreciated for another 70 years (or more).

Some times machines have no stories and then we sometimes find machines that take us back to an earlier time, and some would say, a simpler time.

Now that we have serviced and polished up the machine, I will have to send Richard a few pictures to show his mom…

Dear Bernina…

Dear Bernina,

Way back in 1945 you created the model 125 and it sold incredibly well because it was a beautifully designed free arm machine, it was portable, reliable, and could do a zig zag stitch… and it also had some generous harp space which rivals many of the machines made today.

It was the template for the 530 Record and all the machines that followed.

It has no electronics, computer chips, or flashing led lights or displays but still works day in and day out, without fuss or bother.

2025 would be the 80th anniversary of it’s introduction, and an anniversary model would be spectacular.

My suggestion would be to cast it from it aluminium with no internal or external plastics, to keep it true to the wonderful original design.

What do you think ?

Sincerely,

Keith

Spring Has Sprung

We’ve been away for a wee bit as some health issues have laid us low but we seem to be on the mend now… because of permanent disability issues I will never be at 100% but getting back to where I was a month ago is the goal.

Anyways…

The garden is starting to come back to life and the Creeping Jenny is always the first thing to emerge, some consider it a weed but it fills the edges of the beds and walkways and is not too hard to manage. It also seems to be very attractive to slugs so they can graze on this all they want, and they seem to leave other things alone.

A few weeks ago I picked up a wood lathe to further add to our shop’s restoration capabilities, although I can turn wood on the metal lathe having the right tool for the job makes things so much easier.

It is a 25 year old Craftsman 12 inch lathe that never saw much use through two owners and aside from not having a drill chuck, it was otherwise complete and even came with a 6 inch chuck, which was an extra originally.

One of the first projects was to turn out a new hand crank handle from some maple stock I had purchased a while back…

I also had a few orphan table legs and have been turning these down to use as they are made of Mahogany and here I am making a new handle for our stovetop popcorn maker which is about 90 years old.

I never took woodshop in school and most of my turning experience is in working with metal but there are a lot of transferable skills, it is still all about feed, speed, and tool pressure and angles, with a wood lathe you are much more involved and are part of the tool.

It is a good workout… whereas with a metal lathe it does most of the work for you.

Pearl is probably the most thrilled that I am getting back to work as she loves the shop and the music that sewing machines make when they are running.

What Is Your Favourite Sewing Machine ?

Necchi Supernova Automatica

This is a question I am asked quite often and it is like asking, “who is your favourite child?” or “which bird is your favourite?”.

If you click on the link to our permanent collection you will see quite a range of machines, with many hand cranks and treadles as I really do like human powered sewing.

Many of the examples we have collected are machines I consider to be the best in their class, historically significant, or just all around great performers, like my Kenmore 1931… which I often liken to a Toyota Camry as it is so well made and dead reliable. That and it was made at the peak of Sear’s production and relationship with Maruzen in Japan.

I love good design and engineering and am always fascinated when I discover a new machine like the new Necchi Supernova, I have bought, sold and serviced countless Necchi machines but the Supernova was the greatest machine they ever produced.

It is a technological masterpiece.

Happy sewing.

If Rolex Made Sewing Machines

If Ferrari made sewing machines they would have made the Necchi Supernova, but if Rolex had made sewing machines, they would have made the Elna 62C SU (Supermatic).

The machine is built like a Swiss watch with exceeding high tolerances and perfect balance and using one is something that has to be experienced, few machines run smoother, faster, or quieter.

The original Supermatic debuted in April of April 1952 and was a wonder of engineering and through constant improvements and refinements the Elna SU (Star series) machines debuted in 1971.

An old tech once told me that the 62C was the finest machine ever made, and he worked for a Bernina dealer.

These really were the pinnacle for Elna and stand as one of the finest sewing machines ever made, and perhaps the best machine you could have purchased in the early 1970’s… the Bernina 830 Record and Husqvarna 2000 series machines are and were exceptional but the Elna took sewing to the next level.

If I have one complaint about the 62C is that they are really fussy when it comes to being kept clean, the hook tolerances are so precise that they are very intolerant of lint and debris whereas most machines with oscillating hooks (ie Bernina) are much more tolerant of neglect, although they should all be kept clean and get brushed out and get a drop of oil after every project.

Necchi Supernova Automatica !

“And now, the Necchi push button Supernova marks the third and greatest advancement in modern sewing machines, and the third great advancement introduced by Necchi. The Supernova brings automatic sewing into a completely new era, because the skill is built right into the machine!” – Necchi Supernova manual – 1955

I wonder if the guys on the other side of the Alps might have taken issue with their Italian friend’s claims as the Swiss made Elna Supermatic was also an “automatica” although according to Necchi, these ran “like a phonograph”, as opposed to the Necchi’s ability to customize their “playlist” of cam selections.

With that being said, this is a machine we have wanted to add to the collection for many years and unlike many of the straight stitch Necchi models, they are quite uncommon, probably due to their stratospheric price tag back in 1955. When sold in a cabinet they cost the equivalent of nearly $5000.00 when you adjust for inflation, and even back then cost as much as half a year’s house payments.

Besides having fixed cams for specified patterns it also came with a rack of cams and holders that a user could customize to create their own pattern selections which is rather unique, and the machine is stretch capable like an Elna Supermatic which really set this machine apart, that and the incredible build quality.

The cam set with the long handle is for making button holes and it works rather well to select stitches and run things in reverse. the cover to the parts case has a selector wheel that shows you how to build up cam sets for specific stitches, and a good third of the manual describes many of the stitches that this machine is capable of.

She will be joining the permanent collection here as these are a notable example of 20th century machine development, and if you look at Japanese machine of the early 1960’s it is not hard to see where they got a lot of ideas.

Decided to name her “Gina” after another famous Italian… here she is after being serviced in our shop, most of which involved cleaning and oiling as there were no significant mechanical issues.

Cleaning the under carriage…
Needle bar and presser assembly…
The presser bar and needle bar were especially filthy…

Singer 115

1917 Singer 115

I am always amused when I go to google some info on something and find myself being directed back to my own website.

I now have several of these superlative machines in the collection with the 1917 model having somewhat better decals but from a functional standpoint, both are as smooth as warm butter on glass.

http://www.institchessewing.ca/2019/01/06/singer-the-115/

Touch and Throw ?

Singer 600 Auto Reel

In the mid sixties Singer was changing a great deal and freshened up the look of their machines with a sleeker body, and different controls, but underneath it was the same old dependable design you see in the 400 and 500 series machines. For the most part.

The Singer 611G looks virtually identical but differs in that it used a class 66 drop in bobbin while the revolutionary new 600 Touch and Sew, or Auto Reel had a bobbin that stayed in the machine, and wound in place.

At a glance it can be hard to tell these two machines apart unless you know what to look for, the 611G has a white cap on the upper guide and the top guide is plastic instead of metal.

Singer 611G

Often derided as being unreliable, it was because aside from the auto winding feature, later versions of the T&S started to use plastic/nylon gears in the drive train and over time or through misadventure these broke.

The early models still used the same hand lapped metal gears, probably because Singer was still producing them for the other 6xx series machines and as yet, had not started their slow decline into mediocrity.

As a machinist I really appreciate the workmanship in these machines, the arm under the gear is part of the auto winding mechanism and in later models, these changed location and you guessed it, used more plastic.

This early 600 will be joining our permanent collection as it is historically significant, and because it runs beautifully and makes a great stitch, in addition to being able to chain stitch which was a feature the T&S models made standard.

This machine might still outlast me…

We have several early Touch and Sew machines in the shop that are available, a 600e and a 626 Special which are both metal geared models, if you are interesting in adding one to your herd drop us a line.

Coming soon… Pfaff 362

Pfaff has built many exemplary machines and the pinnacle of their 20th century production came with the 362 “Stop Matic”, aside from the plastic controls which are prone to cracking, the machine is an absolute marvel of German engineering.

This example is in spectacular condition (perfect dials) but has not been used since 2004, when it’s original owner passed away, Upon inspection the machine was pristine and spotless which suggests it may have been cleaned and serviced before going into a long retirement.

It comes with an original Pfaff cabinet with a vertical lift assist, which makes lowering the machine for storage, or raising it up to it’s sewing positions effortless, an insert for the table makes the machine a flatbed, while raising it up offers the flexibility of a free arm.

The machine came with it’s manual, accessories, and stitch wheel which shows you how to set the machine to do all of the stitches it is capable of. I have an original Pfaff tin for the accessories and I might even find an original sales receipt when I go through all of the drawers. These machines were very expensive in the 1960’s, selling for the equivalent of $5000.00

There is very little do do cosmetically on this machine but she is a wee bit sticky, so we will go through everything and have her up and running perfectly once her many moving parts get lubricated.

Almost tempted to keep this one, but think she will be enjoyed by someone who really appreciates some spectacular engineering and would appreciate the beautiful cabinet and lift.