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Monday, March 12, 2012

White Decorative Zigzagger

I've had my eye on one of these for a few months now, but wasn't sure I wanted to pay for one. After all, I do have other machines capable of zigzagging. And I already have access to 30+ decorative stitches via other vintage machines and stitch cams. So why in the world would I want to fork over the dough for a zigzagger that is limited to a blind hem stitch and five decorative stitches, all of which are a slight variation on a plain old zigzag stitch? That's a good question.

All I can say is that I'm more fascinated with how this attachment does what it does, than I am with the resulting stitches. I never imagined that a straight-stitch-only machine could be made to zigzag. That would require moving the fabric back and forth, which sounds incredibly awkward. And how in the world could you follow a straight line while the fabric is moving all over the place? And don't even get me started on applique. Yes, this zigzagger's manual actually says the attachment can be used to zigzag stitch around an applique shape. How must that look, I wonder?

Well, now I have my chance to find out. I recently picked up a vintage machine at my local Goodwill: a White made Dressmaster that came with a decorative zigzagger (with manual). Fortunately there was also a manual for the machine included, and a few other accessories.  I won't be able to try the machine out for a while because it needs some cleaning up and rewiring, but in the meantime I'm going to have plenty of fun playing with the zigzagger on one of my other machines: a White made Kenmore (the Imperial Rotary you see in the background).

Notice the marks (4,3,2,1) on the side of the zigzagger, and under that the large thumb screw. Loosening this thumb screw allows you to adjust the width of the stitches from 1 (narrowest) to 4 (widest).

First things first, I need to attach it to the machine. These kinds of accessories can be a bit of a pain to attach to this machine because of the shape of the presser bar. It's completely round, and has no flat spot with which to square up the zigzagger which means that this has to be done manually.

Notice the shape of the thumbscrew (in the background). This will have to be removed before I can put the zigzagger on.

So, first I loosen the small set screw and pull the textured thumbscrew straight down, and off the presser bar.

Then, I slide the zigzagger on from behind the presser bar positioning the fork arm over the needle clamp screw, and pushing the zigzagger up on the presser bar as far as it will go. Tighten the screw a bit--but not all the way.

Lower the presser foot lever, so that the zigzagger is resting on the bed of the machine. Here is where the manual adjustment comes in, and it takes a bit of trial and error. You have to position the zigzagger so that its side is parallel to the left edge of the machine bed. This looks about right. Then tighten the screw the rest of the way.

This zigzagger should have included six templates, but I only have three. Without any templates installed on the zigzagger, it will do a plain zigzag, as shown below. The resulting stitches don't look bad at all.

The manual says to sew at a medium/slow speed to get the best stitch results. That advice is spot on. As soon as I start to sew at a faster pace, the zigzag stitches start to narrow (without any adjustments made to the attachment). The zigzagger is actually set to 4 (the widest stitch width) for the stitches in the left row. Notice how the stitches are narrower at the top? As I begin stitching (at the bottom of this row) I'm stitching at a medium/slow pace as recommended, but by the time I get to the end of the row (at the top) I speed up, resulting in a narrower stitch width. This puts the impatient sewer (me) at a bit of a disadvantage, and is completely opposite from most modern zigzag stitches, which can actually look smoother when sewn at a faster pace.

In the center row, I am experimenting with the top tension. Again, the zigzagger is still set to 4, but I've set the tension too tight and the material puckers, making the stitches appear narrower. In the last row, I adjust the stitch length on the machine. One of the drawbacks of the zigzagger is that you can't replace it with a satin stitch foot to accommodate the bulk of closely spaced zigzag stitches. If they're spaced too close, you get a pile of stitches (as in the three clumps at the bottom) because the bulk gets caught on the bottom of the zigzagger. The right row of zigzag stitches is as close to a satin stitch as I can get. Again, the stitches go from wide to narrow because of speed variation.

Then I put one of the stitch templates on the zigzagger attachment . . .

And I get a blind hem stitch. Looks pretty good, right? Again, the zigzagger is set to the widest stitch width. At a setting of 4, the material moves quite a bit, and controlling the material starts to get a little intimidating. Blind hemming can be a challenge in itself. I can't imagine trying it with this zigzagger, as much as the material moves, but I suppose anything is possible with practice. Hmm. Maybe another time. For now, I want to move on to the decorative stitches.

And at first, it doesn't seem to be working out . . .

The first two attempts (the bottom two rows) are looking nothing like the illustrations in the manual. Time to read the directions, which say to experiment with the tension until the desired stitch is achieved. At this point I'm starting to get a little frustrated, since the instructions are a bit vague, and I'm not exactly sure how the stitch should look. Out of curiosity I flip the material over, and notice the stitches on the back look closer to the drawings in the manual. After playing with the tension on top and bottom a bit (almost no tension on the bobbin thread, and a higher top tension) I finally get the stitches in the top row. I also try it on denim (below) with better results. The decorative stitches just get a little lost in the gray felt (above).

 The decorative stitches above are done with the 3/3 template: three lines at each point of the zigzag. The decorative zigzagger makes this stitch by pulling the bobbin thread up to the top of the material. The three lines at each point of the zigzag (above) are actually three straight stitches in which the bobbin thread (white) has been pulled up in loops to the top of the material; hence the need for a very low bobbin tension, and a tighter top tension. This gets a little sketchy with lighter materials, and the manual recommends basting a stabilizer to the back of the material. I wonder if I can just stick a piece of paper under it?

It almost works, but I can see why the manual recommends basting the stabilizer to the material to be sewn. The stitches that lay flatter only do so because they're in between two other rows that have already been stitched. So, not only should you baste, but you should baste left and right of where you will place your stitches. Otherwise, the back and forth motion of the zigzagger starts to push the material out of shape. Most of the puckering you see above started because of the motion of the attachment, and the effect of the thread tension was to "enhance" the unsightly puckering.

Finally, the ultimate test--can I actually applique with this attachment? By now I'm starting to get accustomed to the zigzagger, and how it stitches. So I cut out a simple shape, a sparkly, red felt heart, and use the under braider foot (or quilting foot) to baste it onto the gray felt background fabric.

It looks fine like this, and I could stop here, but I want to see what it looks like with zigzag all around the edge. And this is what I get . . .

It turns out better than I expect, and it's not all that difficult to follow the shape, even with the zigzagger set at 3 (I think). Then I push my luck, and do a decorative stitch around the outside of the appliqued heart.

Well . . . it's not awful, and I can see how this would really be cute with a bit more practice. If I had it to do over again, I would have started at the point on the bottom of the heart, instead of along the left edge, where you see the larger spacing gap.

The bottom line is, this attachment has possibilities. I can see how, with a lot more practice, this attachment would have plenty of creative and practical uses. And is it really any more frustrating than learning to use the sewing machine for the first time? No. Not by half. I'm not sure I'll use it again any time soon, but it was a fun experiment.


  1. Considering purchase of the zigzag device, but what I found on ebay had no instructions.Would you consider copying and email or snail mail me the instructions? I'd pay for shipping etc

  2. I think you did incredibly well. I have a Singer 201 ( which, like yours makes a perfect
    straight stitch )- And I love the way those old machines sew, but the zigzagger and blind-hemmer are difficult and the outcome is not as good as a Singer #401. The buttonhole attachment is great, but I will need two machines- one for "heavy duty" and the other for the zigzag (overcasting). Your attachment is a good one ( made by Greist), and I had no idea how difficult it was to attach.. The Singer does attach as
    easily as changing a foot.. Your "heart" looks great, good for a "Vintage" sewing instruction manual.