Sunday, 1 May 2016

Singer 201K2

After watching The Dressmaker I wanted a 201K2 and it seems that these were never sold in Australia. Thought of bringing one from the U.K. where they're not that uncommon, or converting a 201-2 from 110V but this didn't seem sensible.
Exactly a month ago I won one! It appeared on eBay and finished at 3:30pm when nobody would be watching. I still paid $111.50 for a machine that was in really awful condition. The wiring was actually melted and it needed a complete overhaul.

So, I got it working by my birthday (2nd April) and sold all my other 201s because now I had a rare one. Possibly a bit premature, the motor made a loud rumbling noise and wasn't at all the quiet roll-royce machine I was led to believe it was.
In the middle of sewing a jacket today I stopped and decided this was a great time to recondition the motor. Nicholas Rain Noe has an excellent article on this and the U.S. version is the same, just for a different mains voltage. I believe the grease might have had something to do with the reduction in the noise but it's still not whisper quiet.
Elusive 201K2
In the first scene of the film Kate Winslet is carrying an empty case. How can I tell? This baby weighs almost as much as she does.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Singer 206, 306, 319 and 320 timing

There are loads of these around and a lot for sale, so one you've modified the bobbin case to use normal needles, you'll probably want to learn how to ensure the hook is timed. Why? Good question, because these models have a tendency to go off due to the screws holding the bobbin drive to its shaft not being tight enough or maybe you tried to sew something too heavy and it slipped slightly.
This never happens with straight sew models, or I haven't ever had to set hook timing on them but quite a few 319s I've bought have needed to be timed. The other thing that commonly causes it is some dim wit in the past has tried to adjust the hook timing thinking it will allow them to use 15x1 needles.

Here is the procedure to check and correct the timing:
Step 1: Remove the end plate (cover of the needle bar) and the needle plate (slide plate) and tilt the machine back. Needle should be in the central position. Remove the bobbin case.
Step 2: Move the hand wheel toward you until the needle has descended to its lowest point. Now you need to check the marks on the top of the needle bar:
At the very bottom, the lines on needle bar and machine should line up
 If they don't line up, either the needle height has also been changed or (more likely) the static mark on the machine has been moved. If the height is wrong, you'll find out in a few minutes, so assume it's the little plate that has moved. You can see there's a screw just under it. Undo it and move the plate so they align.
Step 3: Move the hand wheel while looking at the needle bar marks. Stop when the lower needle bar mark lines up.
Needle has started to rise a little
Now check the position of the needle
Hook is exactly behind the needle, and should almost be touching it.
If the hook is not in the right position, Loosen the two screws holding the bobbin drive in place slightly and move the bobbin drive until the hook is the right spot.
Loosen (do not remove) the screws holding the bobbin drive to its shaft.
Now tighten the screws back up and do the test again. If it's still perfect (it might have moved when you were tightening the screws) make sure the screws are quite tight and check the needle bar height. Put the needle in the left position and turn the hand wheel until the hook is just behind the needle. The hook should be just above the eye of the needle.

I think this procedure is pretty important to know, even if you only have one machine. If you can't get the tension just right on your swing needle machine you can be fairly sure the hook timing has wandered a little.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Servicing your 201K part 2 - cleaning

This is really quite easy to do. There are two things to remember when oiling your old domestic machine:
1. Clean first, then oil
2. Only one drop per oiling point, except the presser bar wick
If you want to do it properly, you should remove the hook mechanism, which may never have been done. Here's how to do it:
pull slide plate out
angle it so it comes out, avoid damaging the enamel
remove needle, foot and bobbin
Clean out the dirt. Most will be really filthy
nylon brushes are excellent
This is removed next. It's going to be hard. If you can't, clean around it
remove feed dog screws
prise these two lugs outwards a little
lugs out, wedge a screwdriver so hook comes off when wheel turned
lugs have moved, hook is ready to lift off

clean everything so it's at least this shiny
to reassemble, the screwdriver will be on the other side, wheel turned opposite way
Now, put the screw back in and tighten it. I mean it has to be pretty tight. Put a single drop of oil where the hook rotates (metal against metal - general rule of oiling, as is the single drop on each oiling point).
Replace the bobbin and slide plate. Again, careful not to damage the enamel and put it in at an angle.
Well, now we have that over, move on to the end plate. Remove it and notice that every piece of moving steel has a small oil hole. If it doesn't or you can't find it, oil it anyway.
Take note of how stiff the hand wheel is before oiling this then compare it again afterwards. It's my experience that this area contributes most to a machine's stiffness, so you'll be doing the most good here.
turn the hand wheel, oil every joint and the needle bar
Here are just two points. Exactly one drop each.
Also soak the brown wick at the top of the presser bar. Might take 5 or so drops, but don't overdo it or oil will ruin your sewing for months. You can see in that last picture that the top arrow points to a hole, the bottom is pointing at the needle bar. Exactly one drop each is a very simple rule.
Now, tip the machine back. I rested mine on the lid turned sideways. Turn the hand wheel to see what moves and oil it. Remove the two black metal covers and oil in there too (marked with arrows), or vaseline would be better for this, since it will stay a lot longer. Vaseline closely matches Singer's gear and motor grease, which isn't available any more.
If aluminium, the serial number is stamped underneath

At this point, if you're used to modern machines you might be wondering why on Earth you have to do all this when you don't on the modern plastics. Here's why: Plastics have oil included in the plastic and when it runs out, if your machine lasts that long, you are expected to throw the machine away and buy a new one. When your 201K was made, this would have been unthinkable. I developed the habit of cleaning and oiling after every eight hours of sewing and be happy that my machine sews a perfect stitch and will last forever. At the same time, replace your sewing needle. 
Just a few places that need a drop
There are actually quite a number of places that need oil underneath, so make sure you spend some time on this. The manual has quite good instructions too. Yes Singer intended for the user to service their own machine! How about that?
Several oil points on the top
Finally, remove the plate at the back
someone has greased it
It appears that someone has applied a bit of grease to the gears. Singer recommends oil, and oil on the mechanism on the left (which usually gets oil from the oiling hole on the top). If there's heavy grease on the gears it will noticeably slow the motor and you should clean it off. This grease doesn't seem to have affected my machine so I left it alone.

Now, the other things are to look at the drive belt. If it needs a new one, do not buy a round rubber belt: Those belts cause the motor to strain. Get a fibre belt like the machine is supposed to use and adjust the motor so this belt is loose. It is not like a car's fan belt, where tight is good. If you over tighten the drive belt on a sewing machine it will slow the motor and wear the bushings out very quickly. It will also give you poor control over the speed, so keep it as loose as possible without slippage.
The original bulbs were 25W and were extremely good. When I buy a machine it normally has the original Singer bulb or a 1960s 25W replacement that still works. Really, they made things that well a long time ago. Still, they get very hot and you might be better off with a 15W replacement. They produce the same amount of light but the burn you sustain when you touch it is only second degree instead of third. Saves on hospital bills and skin grafts. I buy Riva bulbs which are exactly the same size as the original and they're still made in Germany.

The exterior

If the exterior is a bit dirty, clean it with a cloth and some sewing machine oil. It's the only substance guaranteed not to damage the finish. Only down side is that it's so gentle you might be there a while. Pure car wax works nicely if you want a deep sheen. The later ones were painted with enamel (earlier were Japanned) so you can use car paint products on keeping it beautiful.

Remember: Important

201s have the needle flat to the left and thread right to left

Servicing your 201K part 1

In Australia and in the U.K. there are loads of these machines around. There were literally millions of them made because they were so good Singer made them from the 1930s until the 1960s. A straight stitching machine in the 1960s that cost more than any zig-zag, free arm machine and people still bought them. Why? What's so good about them?
Firstly, Singer made these with special hardened steel gears, so they were as tough as nails. They had an incredibly simple system of getting the bobbin moving (just one bar underneath the machine) which performed a perfect stitch on both the top and bottom, and it could stitch everything from silk to leather. Just about any machine can be made to sew through leather but the 201K can do it easily**.
** As a side note, sewing through leather is easy enough, but leather tends to get dragged back by the presser foot and will bend and break your needles as well as screw up the stitching (and with leather, there's no second chances). To properly sew leather on a sewing machine you need a walking foot (even feed foot) which moves the work from the top as well as the bottom (the regular feed dog), or a wheel feed and foot, which Singer made several models of.

Now, next thing you should know is that the 201K has two forms: The early cast iron one and the later aluminium one. Here they are:
1936 201K3 cast iron weighs a ton!

The 201K23 (201P) weighs half as much
They look radically different because aluminium is so much weaker than iron that Singer had to redesign the head to make it stronger. The stitching mechanism is identical in both machines.
Technically the cast iron version is a 201K3 and the aluminium one is a 201K23, but it's really not important.

Electrical first

Okay, so you have your 201K on the bench, what's the first thing to do? Firstly, check the wiring, particularly between the motor and light. You can see that the one in the photo isn't that great, but I'm aware of it and will be replacing it. Replacement is not trivial and I have a blog entry devoted to this. See here for replacement of the Singerlight wiring.
This is usually the wire that goes first

Check both sides of the bakelite plug

1950s vinyl insulation does not last forever, especially in Australia. It cracks and flakes off. I heard recently from a guy in NSW who said that all old Singer motors are death traps and none of them would ever pass a safety inspection. He has good reason to say that: He imports and sells cheap quality Chinese replacement motors.
Here is my experience: I have fixed literally hundreds of electrical machines and none has ever been a problem. Also, I had one that had been tested and had a safety tag on it when I bought it, so I don't really believe this. If you choose to buy a second hand sewing machine that doesn't have a safety tag on it, you are expected to take full ownership for getting it tested, and the device will have a label saying just this. You have been warned. If you don't know what you're doing and the wiring is suspect, don't plug it in or you might kill yourself.
The wiring is by far the most important thing to check in the same way the brakes are if you buy a second hand car. It's the thing most likely to injure or kill you if it's not good.

Foot Controller

These came with radio suppression capacitors, which are a problem when they fail. Their purpose is to suppress AM radio interference and they also suppress some of the sparking inside the motor. When they fail, they bridge the electrical connections inside the controller and your machine starts sewing at full speed all by itself! All sewing machine repair people I know remove the capacitors. I wrote an earlier blog entry here on these, and the example was the twin capacitors. Here is the procedure in pictures for the single capacitor version:
turn over, remove screws, push the button on the other side
It's the grey thing. I've disconnected one side
disconnected. It would work perfectly well now, but remove it

before putting it back, drop of oil here and around the button

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Unplug your Machines when not in use

If your machine has a bakelite foot controller you should never leave it plugged in when not in use. 
Singer tells you this in (some of) their manuals.
From Singer 201K manual

How they Work


These controllers use a stack of thin carbon discs which are compressed by the button you step on to allow current to flow. A friend of mine in Canada has a blog which explains this in detail: http://www.archaicarcane.com/singerattheraces/

Why Unplug?

There are three good reasons I can think of to unplug your machines:
1. Over time current starts to leak and this can make them hot. This heat can build up enough to start a fire, which can happen when you aren't home or when you're asleep in bed.
2. The higher voltage ones (220V/240V) were fitted with a capacitor to prevent AM radio interference. When this breaks, it short circuits and the machine suddenly goes at full speed. Yes it can happen when you're not at home! 
3. Your machines are fascinating to kids, who love to play with them. If the machine is plugged in, kids are more likely to be injured. When my machine isn't in use I unthread it, place a piece of fabric under the foot, foot down and needle down.

You can certainly tune bakelite controllers so there's less danger, but the best thing you can do is to get into the habit of unplugging them when you're finished sewing. Don't be frightened of these. They're original to the machines and perform very well, so there's no reason to get rid of them. Knowing how they work is valuable.
A few years back I did an entry on fixing them up. Not as comprehensive as archaicarchane's, just removal of the capacitor.


What do they look like again?

Not all carbon disc controllers look like this:
Singer Bakelite Foot Controller

Some of them look like this:
Husqvarna controller from early 1970s
Even clam shell controllers use carbon discs: My daughter's 1970 Singer has them, and a generic Taiwanese replacement I opened up also had them.
I was surprised they all didn't use coiled (resistance) wire, but they don't.
That's all. You've been advised to do it and told why, the rest is up to you. Have fun!

Friday, 1 January 2016

1937 Home Journal Pattern

Wasn't going to write about this until it was finished but every time I go to a Spotlight sale, I seem to bump into a fellow blogger. Same as last time, she was going through the patterns ($5 everything but Vogue sale ended today). I was not this time: Instead it was a frantic search for a zipper after realising I'd nearly finished and shops won't be open tomorrow (new year's day). Glad I did, thornberry is always fun, and seeing her reminds me of blogging for some reason :-)

So, a few months ago (okay, six) a friend asked me to make her a 1930s dress.

Here is the pattern:
The one on the right
Here's where I am up to now:
The finishing will take a bit of work, but need to add zipper, shoulder pads and facings.
It's after midnight now (happy new year) so I'm off to bed. I'll edit tomorrow and detail the details. This pattern was not easy and the bodice was quite challenging. Measuring the pleats was the most difficult. More tomorrow.

Okay maybe not quite :-)

Instructions are:

After the patternmaker adjusted the pattern for our friend, I went to work on making it happen. The fabric chosen was linen or a linen blend. Whatever it is, it takes the iron on maximum and with steam to rid it of a crease!
The first thing I needed to do was create those pleats. It was decided to make the contrast yellow so I decided that on my 1959 Pfaff 360 I could do zig-zags very close together (Pfaffs are excellent at doing this). I'd say about 85% of time and effort went into the front bodice and this is the hardest piece I've ever made. This means a lot to be learned.
I created the pleats first then the darts. The pleat measurements have to be extremely accurate. If not the neck facings (not in the pattern, but the depression was a while ago now, so splash out a little) won't fit. Use steel ruler, edge of your table or both to ensure absolute straightness of these pleats. Pin, baste and sew, and when everything is okay (you might well have to unpick - not worth it if you overlook anything) you need to create the contrast. Make sure the stitch width is almost zero and do a test before going near the production garment. The pattern is marked where you must stop. The bottom part should be pleated but the pleat edge is not attached.
I chose to put ric-rac (or rick-rack as it used to be called) on. I pinned and basted, but found it easier to attach it by hand than to machine stitch: The machine was too hard to keep between the waves and it would be almost impossible to get a zig-zag even close. A treadle may have given sufficient control for it to work, but honestly, with colour matched thread, the hand stitches are not seen anyway and I had absolute control.
The bust darts next. These are just as normal darts, and a hint with darts is that if the wearer has a larger bust, make sure the points of the darts come to a smooth point.
The rest of it was very straight forward, so we made another addition. Added some Petersham ribbon to the waist to prevent stretching. This doesn't show at all, and is just a nice added feature to ensure the shape is retained.

Seam finishes

I've been told that pinking looks terrible and makes clothes look home made. Well, in 1937 almost all garments were pinked, especially if they were home made.
Well, very few factories had overlockers back then. If you're thinking French seams, the linen is too thick and the seams would end up a bit bulky.
So I pinked every seam.
Pinked seam, with bias binding
That reminds me: Used this wide binding on the bottom edge. Sewn right sides together then blind hemmed it. This takes a long time but why else would it look as close to the picture? I don't take shortcuts.
Only the belt remains. I've ordered a load of original deco buckles from the U.K. (they seem very common there) and will update the entry when they come through. It shouldn't take long to make a self belt for this dress. Will update again after she's modelled it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Adjusting your thread tension

Before starting, remember that the bobbin tension must always be less than the top thread tension.

Some problems and their solutions.


Problem: puckering
Cause: Assuming here that you have already adjusted your presser foot. If your thread tension is too tight, the thread will pucker the fabric as you sew. Reason is that the thread pulls the seam together. It looks terrible and makes your work look cheap (look at the seams on a cheap shirt that has been worn a few times).
Solution: Loosen the top thread tension. 

Problem: Snapping thread
Cause: see above, or maybe you're using vintage cotton thread. 
Solution: If the latter, just know that old cotton is generally not usable for sewing. Throw it out or use it for a display.

Problem: thread loose and loopy at the bottom
Cause: Top tension is too loose
Solution: Increase top thread tension

Problem: Thread loose and loopy at the top
Cause: Bobbin tension is too loose
Solution: Increase bobbin thread tension.

More likely you'll have something in between and your stitches aren't balanced. Your stitches should be perfectly balanced, with a dot from the bottom just visible between top stitches and a dot of the top thread just visible between stitches at the bottom. Test this using contrasting coloured threads.

Top tension

Almost all tension problems can be fixed by adjusting or fixing the top thread. The sewing machine was designed like this so you don't have to fiddle about with the bobbin, which is always more difficult than adjusting the top.
Thread your needle, making sure the thread is between the tension discs. 
Make sure you thread it with the foot up. Reason is that when the foot is down, the discs are pressing together and will not allow the thread to sit between them. Then there is absolutely no tension on the discs. If there's no tension, chances are you threaded it while the foot was down.
Now put the foot down and pull lightly on the thread, through the needle. Not hard, and the thread should deflect (bend) the needle. Now turn the top tension toward zero. At around 1 the thread will start moving and at zero there should be almost no resistance at all. If this is not the case, you will need to adjust, or calibrate, your tension dial. If you don't want to, just don't rely on the numbers. From zero, most machines are happy for normal clothing fabric at around 2.5 to 3.5, at least on my old Singers.

I'm not going to tell you how to calibrate your machine's tension dial because your machine will almost certainly not be like mine.

Bobbin tension

If you absolutely must do this, how you do it will depend on whether it has a vertical bobbin (with removable bobbin case) or horizontal (drop-in bobbin - non-removable bobbin case).

Vertical bobbin machines: Remove the case and holding the end of the bobbin thread, let the rest (bobbin and case) hang. It should only just be able to stay still so that if you move the end of the thread up at all the thread will unravel. If this is not the case, adjust by turning the little screw in to tighten or out to loosen. Keep testing until it is perfectly balanced. Adjuster is on the tension spring, which the thread passes through.

Horizontal bobbin: Thread it through the throat plate like you were preparing to sew. Pull the end and adjust as neccesary so you just feel a little tension on the thread. Adjuster is on the tension spring.


Before I learned about all of this I probably shook with fear if a machine's tension wasn't right, but it's really not that bad. If it loops, the side opposite to the loop is too loose. If puckering, loosen the top off. For puckering, check the foot pressure before adjusting the tension or you'll have to fix the tension afterwards.