Saturday, July 11, 2020

Inherited Singer - Sewing the Songs of Heart

About that title, whoever is editing this blog needs to pay attention more.  I don't know, I needed some extra "pizazz" somewhere, and the title of only "Inherited Singer" just didn't cut it.  So, the editor let it past.

I recently inherited the treadle sewing machine owned by my great grandmother.  She lived to be 100 years old (which she swore she'd do).  She was a truly magnificent lady.  Two of her sons, my dad's uncles, did not marry until late in life (one never at all, the other had his first marriage begin in his 70's).  Even though those men were our uncles one step back (great uncles?), they were OURS.

Early this past week, I was contacted by the wife of the one uncle (he passed away a number of years ago, and she has since remarried), and she asked if I wanted the treadle sewing machine from our great grandmother.  Of course, I said "yes".  I picked it up yesterday.  The experience was rejuvenating (except for the allergies).  Here's a backdrop story for you just so you can get an idea of what these boys, uh, uncles were really like.

When we'd visit them on the farm, they had rifles by the door.  They only put them away when people came to visit who were not trusted.  They left them out when we visited, even when we were kids that were 4 to 18.  And they were loaded.  It was because they knew we'd not get our hands in things we shouldn't.  They left black power out in the shop that we ran around in.  No worries.  These guys had home-made cherry bomb competitions (the cherry bombs were to help keep the starlings away in maintenance of the farm).  They were partially deaf because when younger, they sat in the bathroom with the shotgun barely out the window to kill the magpies (because the magpies were smart enough to recognize a barrel sticking out a window).  These guys would give you the shirt off their backs.  They could fix anything, they could make anything, and they also knew how to cause a little mischief when they needed to.

Back to the present day.  My aunt choked up, still missing that old geezer.  She brightened back up when she remembered his giggles as he suddenly had some mischief to get into, or mischief he'd already gotten himself into.  That made my day.  She told me of when some the trees at the orchard and died out because of disease, and after they had been cut down (even in his old age), he was ready to go dig a couple of holes and fill them with dynamite to remove the trunk.  Watching her giggle thinking of his giggles - folks, it's contagious.  I'd rather giggle from mischief (even if it's indirect) than think of everything else going on right now.  So, we loaded up the Singer, and I got it home.  Here it is with the drawers removed.

Yes, those are my great grandmothers scissors in there.  There are dice, bobbins, needles, awls, and a belt to connect the treadle to the sewing machine itself.

This was this mornings project, actually.  When I was picking it up, I noticed a piece of wood that had broken off.  My aunt didn't know where it went.  This morning, I was able to find where it went.  I used a wood carving chisel to remove a previous attempt at repair (looked like lacquer was used as a glue).

I glued it up, and clamped it down and gave it a few good long hours to cure.

Once it had cured long enough, I moved it indoors and proceeded to work on better identification.  Knowing my uncles, that thing should have simply needed some light oiling, and I know it would have worked worked.  Everything was well taken care of.

However, there are a few things that were allowed to get dusty since that time.  I will need to remove the machine, and walk through every little thing.  That means I'd better find the model.  I grabbed pictures of every little number I could find on it :

With that done, I set to work on the identification.  I could find no model number.  That meant the serial number is the best option to work from.  Patents should provide some additional detail.

The serial number puts its date of manufacture between June 22 and June 24, 1910.  The design elements pin it to a "model 66" (which began manufacture in 1902) called a "red eye".  The cabinet is a Singer "Cabinet Table No. 5" or a "No.6" cabinet.  The manual was found over on, so a big shout out to them.  A history on the 66 can be found over on if you are interested.

A "model 66" was considered the "queen of the sewing machines" by the previous writer because of the engineering that went into it.  The basic model sold for just under $41 (not much, but in 1910 the average worker made 22 cents/hr, meaning the average person would have to work for 164 hours to pay for it).  To put that in perspective, an average wage in 2019 is $19.33/hr, making this machine cost around $3,200.  Since it had such a price, and since Singer was smart enough to market this to people who may not be able to afford it, you could purchase a sewing machine using a rent-to-own method, paying for it over a 20 year span.  Obviously, sitting at my house now, it's lasted a bit longer than that (110 years, to be honest).  For a sewing machine, that's the cream of the crop.

When I first received this, I hand-turned the spindle once or twice to gauge the shape.  I could feel the grit in there, and knew it needed to be dismantled and cleaned.  I took a brief opportunity to take it apart.  Yes, as someone who does some machine work, I only had a little hesitation.  The machine needed to be brought back up to working condition.  I took each piece apart until I could get to every bearing surface for oil.  I started with the belt end, and slowly worked my way through it.  Each piece was removed, and cleaned.

I moved on to the foot and bobbin side, and gave it a good look and cleaning.  There was quite a bit of lint in there, so I knew it hadn't been cleaned for a long time.

I shifted to the back side :

I grabbed the underside, and worked through that (including the bobbin shuttle (what houses the bobbin), and the foot.  I oiled it a third time,and had it back together.  I had to grab a quick picture of the bobbin winding assembly - this whole thing is really magnificent in it's engineering, and laid the foundation for all of the newer, modern sewing machines.  This is awesome!

However, on getting it back together, a quick hand turn and I could feel a major difference.  I had also replaced the tension spring and pieces, so this is essentially a usable sewing machine.  Perhaps I'll go sew some masks for my wife.  She does often joke about me getting in touch with my feminine side because I want to sew leather for car seats, use vinyl cutters to create stencils for etching aluminum, and toaster ovens to set Cerakote.

Anyway, it's done, together, and functioning again. I think I will actually use this one (not like my other sewing machine).  It might be able to do some light leather, too.  And the power consumption is measured in ice scream scoops (because it's me doing the work).  I think it will work at the rate of 4 scoops per hour.

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