The Singer 201 – a Masterpiece.

Considered to be the finest straight stitch machine ever made, the Singer 201 was a absolute masterpiece of engineering.

In it’s day it was the most expensive domestic machine Singer sold, one was gifted to Queen Elizabeth when she married, and in today’s dollars this machine sold for $ 1500.00 without a cabinet.

Hand lapped beveled drive gears, a rotary hook, and the finest balance and precision and finish throughout makes this one of the smoothest running machines ever made.

A demonstration of how smooth, quiet, and fast these machines are.

Elna Model #1 Grasshopper, A Design Marvel.

Elna Model 1 “Grasshopper”

A great deal has been written on the Elna Model 1, which is affectionately called the “Grasshopper”, so instead of repeating a lot, I’ll just add a link to a very well written article:

http://www.needlebar.org/main/elna/

When the Grasshopper was finally released in 1940, it was the first mass produced portable free arm machine, predating the excellent Bernina 121 by some years… and in my opinion was the superior machine in design. The exemplary rotary hook design of the Grasshopper would be carried forward and further improved in subsequent Elna models which were also ground breaking in their design.

There were quite a few European companies that also made similar machines in the 1940’s like Helvetia and Fridor, Phoenix, as well as Portman in The United States. None of these machines have stood the test of time nearly as well as the Grasshopper, worked as well, or were as successful. Much of that also stems from good company management, distribution, and support which Elna developed.

The Elna Grasshopper stands the test of time and is as beautiful a machine now as it was when it first appeared 80 years ago, most of the machines we see on this side of the pond are post war when Elna distribution expanded beyond their local and European market.

A few of those other machines…

The Fridor 77 was based on a similar Helvetia portable (used the same parts) and is a beautiful machine to look at but from all accounts, not as well made a machine.

Portman Viking (Eaton’s)

The Portman Company in The United States produced just one model of machine and it saw some success, being badged and sold for a number of large chains like the Viking example shown. It has a lot of similarities to a Grasshopper and can’t believe that Portman had not seen one, and been inspired to build a similar machine in the U.S. They do have a rotary hook and a massive 1.5 amp motor and work rather well.

At the end of the day, if you ever get a chance to take the Elna Grasshopper for a test drive you will see rather quickly how well made a machine it is, and understand why they are popular among collectors as well as people who appreciate and like to use a finely built sewing machine. I don’t think many end up as shelf queens but rather, get to travel and get used a good deal.

Bernina – The 530 Record.

Bernina 530 Record – 1957

In 1954 Bernina introduced the Record series with the 530, and prior to this their sales were respectable but even then, Singer made more machines in a day than Bernina made in a year, and Singer still held 95% of the global market. Other European companies were starting to put a dent in Singer’s hegemony though,

Elna had released the Supermatic in 1951, and was seeing some massive success in the North American market, and demonstrated that people wanted to buy and own convertible, free arm machines. By comparison, the Elna used external cams, required cover plates for free motion, and by the second generation could do stretch stitches, a feature Bernina did not have until the early 1980’s.

By 1963 Bernina would sell 2 million machines and I believe that the 530 Record was most responsible for their entry into the global market, increased sales success, and establishment of their own dealer networks in North America.

The success of the 530 was such that Singer even approached Bernina, and wanted to strike a deal whereby they would distribute Bernina machines through their vast network of Singer stores. Bernina declined and for a time opted for shared North American distribution with Necchi.

The 530 Record was compact, (but a wee bit heavy) and featured 12 built in stitches, had a powerful motor and reduction drive like the 125, a drop feed, introduced Bernina’s proprietary clip on foot system, and had a semi automatic button hole feature. There were no external accessories required and all the extra feet, bobbins, and thread stored nicely in the rear mounted tray.

It was also built like a Swiss watch, and sews beautifully and quietly… a hallmark of the Bernina machines that followed.

It must have been a wonder for people to come into a shop and test drive this phenomenal machine.

Our Friend Alex Askaroff has written a wonderful article on Bernina’s History and we offered to contribute a little on the 530 Record.

The article can be found at: https://sewalot.com/bernina_sewing_machines.htm

In The Workshop – Bending and Brazing

When you have an 80 year old machine like my Bernina 117 and need a new knee bar, you really can’t call the local sewing shop and buy one but we can fabricate one for you.

We can customize the knee bar for your personal set up, be it a treadle like ours or for a machine that is electric in a cabinet, or commercial table.

We can fabricate these knee bars for many different machines, the cost for materials and production time will run around $75.00 CAD.

Singer 421G and Cabinet…

Just arrived and awaiting some time in the spa, a beautiful 421G and one of the rarest mid century tables… once we have refinished the table and serviced the machine it will be available for sale.

The 421G and 431G models were never sold by Singer in North America, but quite a number were brought over privately, especially by military persons who were serving in Germany in the 1960’s.

Please contact us to reserve this amazing machine and table for your own collection.

Summertime… almost.

Summer has almost arrived here so I have been spending my mornings and evenings working in the garden and greenhouse, this tends to be a slower time of year as I assume that many of our customers turn to doing the same things.

I should be able to harvest the Haksap berries soon, when the birds descend on them I know they are ripe and it is time to pick them and freeze them for later.

I know that with Covid a lot of people are re-discovering the simple joys of gardening and growing more of their own food which can only be a good thing, just like many people have rediscovered the joy of sewing during these difficult times.

A garden is wonderful place where all the stresses of the day and times can fade away as you focus on growing things.

Even on warm and rainy days like today I can go out and enjoy the deck, and have set up a little library table in case I decide I want to bring out a 128 or a 99 and sew outside. 😀

Our Newest machine

Our newest machines sews terribly… 🙂

I went out on a service call several weeks ago and as I worked on machines had a lovely conversation with the owners of Roc Tan industries, a company that fabricates wind socks for airports, industrial sites, and anywhere one may need to know what the prevailing winds are for safety.

We started talking about machining and specifically lathes, and that I had been hunting for one, and Brian said he had an old Atlas in his shed that I could have… for free. To say I was gob smacked would have been an understatement.

I needed to buy a motor and order some parts to get it up and running and tooled up for production work in our shop and for the last week and a half the little lathe has been humming along nicely.

I turned out this custom aluminium thread stand for a long arm quilting machine yesterday, a special order for a friend who was not pleased with the company’s offering of some overpriced and ugly looking plastic. even if I had billed her the full rate for a custom part it would have cost less than the plastique.

We are presently making a lot of our new thread stands and the lathe is the ideal tool for doing most of the work which helps me as I cannot spend that much time on my feet.

This will allow us to make more custom parts, especially when you have to deal with proprietary threading or need to make something that is rare or simply unavailable.

Most people think of lathes as being huge industrial machines but this vintage Atlas 618 fit in the back of the RAV easily for it’s ride home as it is less than 40 inches wide and weighs less than many industrial sewing machines.

In The Shop – Elna Friction Wheel Tools

In my past life I worked as a Rehabilitation Practitioner, Machinist, and bicycle frame builder / technician and now I rehabilitate sewing machines and fabricate small parts, and am looking to expand my workshop capabilities to offer even more shop services.

The Elna Supermatic came out in 1951 and is among my favourite machines of all time, and rather than using a belt drive, Elna used a friction wheel. These wheels were available for many years, and were produced to a fairly high standard.

Over time Elna stopped offering OEM friction wheels and we have been less than pleased with the aftermarket ones, as they have a high failure rate and often run poorly, so with the advent of 3D printing we now have some high quality replacements.

The replacement wheels use replaceable friction elements and are dimensionally different than the originals so setting the sprung pin required a different tool.

The tool on the left is a prototype for extracting the old friction wheels while the tool on the right was made in out shop to set the pin for the new friction wheel.

Although it looks simple there were a lot of machining steps required to cut, mill, drill, and thread the inside to fit and retain the new pin, and I had to make a custom screw by turning down an existing 4mm stainless bolt.

I will be making a few more extractors now…