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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Vintage Machines: I Don't Know Why I Love Them, But I Do

When I joined a local quilting bee last year, my love of quilting quickly expanded into a love of vintage machines. Members of the church where we meet donate materials to support our group, which makes baptism quilts for babies born into the congregation, touch quilts for Alzheimer patients, and prayer quilts for anyone needing a little extra support through a difficult time.  It's only natural, then, that we have accumulated a few machines, all vintage, either through our own thrifty finds, or through donations to the group.

Our bee also does group projects. When I first joined, the group had already chosen fabrics for a full/queen sized raffle quilt, so the first few meetings I attended were spent ironing fabric and cutting pieces. When it came time to sew, I was introduced to our machines, but was quickly disappointed to find that one, a very cool, very sleek looking Singer 99K (in cabinet), had a broken belt.

 The other was a shade of green somewhere between pea and avocado, and was an all metal, heavy beast of a machine (called Dressmaker) with wood grain accents. It could power on, but wouldn't run.

I don't know why these machines held such a fascination for me, but I was immediately hooked, and just had to get them running again. I took some pictures, took the broken belt home with me, did some internet research, and was easily able to get the 99k running again with a new belt. With that first small success came mounds of satisfaction at having made a crippled machine useful again.

I was sure I could duplicate this success, and though I was still such a recent addition to the group, the kind ladies I quilt with allowed me to take the Dressmaker E-199 home for the week. One new belt later, the machine still wouldn't run, and not only would it not run, but I noticed the motor smoking. Uh-oh. After many hours of scouring sewing machine manuals sites, since the model number turned up nothing in Google searches, I found a manual, and the section on maintenance and oiling points. (Ah-ha!) And I was pleasantly surprised to be able to easily obtain sewing machine oil at my local sewing and vac shop. (Was I a newbie or what?) Just one drop of oil per point, and I could feel the machine getting looser and looser with every turn of the hand wheel. And imagine my delight when I plugged the machine back in and it actually sewed!

That was more than a year ago, and since then I have accumulated a few vintage machines of my own. The first was a beautiful teal colored Viscount. Looking more 50's era car than sewing machine with it's chrome knobs and detailing, it needed nothing more than a light oiling and new spool pins. Most of the machines I come across, however, need a bit more work to get them back in shape. Digging into the innards of a dried out, or gooped  up machine, and trying to find the key to making it work again has become like a treasure hunt. And I'm almost disappointed if I get one that's already in working order, and only needs a drop or two of oil.

Despite the fact that I have restored a few fairly complicated cases to working order, I don't consider myself an expert by any means. However, I do have a lot to share, from vintage machines and their features, to vintage attachments and how to use them. And lets not forget sewing and quilting in general, which I also do a ton of. I hope you will find the information and stories I share here over the coming months to be both useful and enjoyable.


  1. I love vintage sewing machines also. It's everything I can do to not buy more. I have 2 dressmakers. One my mother in law gave me back in early seventies. The other I bought at estate sale several years ago

  2. I learned to sew on my Mothers Singer 99. I still have a fondness for that style. My dressmaker that I bought at estate sale looks almost exactly like that old singer. It has such a beautiful stitch. It is a dressmaker class 15 /singer model clone from the early 1950. When I took it to be readied for sewing the repairman said it would last me longer than I would ever need it. All metal parts!

  3. Meeeee toooooo. I kinda bypassed resurrecting my Mom's Free-Westinghouse (all I can say is it is pre-1958 - my birth) and fell in love with a Necchi 565 with tension problems I picked up used ~2 months back. Hadn't ripped into that one (yet) before finding a Bernina Arista 180 (supposedly working) and a Juki serger (working) - both for a song.

    (Don't know if you guys have a term for it here but a tradition/practice in Vintage Woodworking Tool blogs is no matter how much one brags about a exceptionally sweet deal one picks up (called a 'GLOAT'), IT DID NOT HAPPEN AND IS DISAVOWED BY THE OBSERVERS UNTIL THE PURCHASER POSTS PICS of the machine acquired.)

    FYI, not to detract from this site one bit but as an additional resource (can we ever have enough!?), there is a really good group in FB where one can post pics of problems with old machines and some of the ppl there used to be 'pros' who worked on machines and they will help out with fixing them. It also has many manuals in the files section. I am unable to grok why/how all these companies exist by selling poorly scanned PDFs of old sewing machine manuals for such outrageous prices. I can only ascribe it to my theory that milenists(?) aren't good IT people and wind up being the victims of the shake-down artists selling these old manuals. If 'we' would make a concerted effort to collect, scan, post, share these old manuals those clowns couldn't screw everybody with those outrageous prices for manuals they do not hold any copyrights to, and manuals the mfgr/originator of the manual undoubtedly considers to be in the public domain.

    Whew - lemme get my breath. OK, stepping off the box...

    Old woodworking machines (DeWalt, Delta, etc.) and these old sewing machines are pure sex. They have such beautiful lines and truly mix art and functionality in ways that few products do today.

  4. Another good site is .There's a vintage sewing machine group and some excellent folks.

  5. Also forgot the vintage machine group on Ravelry! Good folks there too.

  6. Also forgot the vintage machine group on Ravelry! Good folks there too.