Monday, February 15, 2016

The Singer 12 Sewing Machine and How to Use It

A little history on this particular machine and then some help on how to use this type of model for those who might be stopping by needing help. It's story is like so many others. This tiny 1884 Singer 12 came to me in desperate condition. It had been in a shed, covered with boxes. The cabinet had been painted white with gold trim in the past. Even the irons were painted. Still, I could see it was indeed a fairly old machine that was complete and worth saving

The machine was taken out, paint was removed. After paint removal the wood was oiled, irons were then repainted the original black. When the machine was replaced, it got a little adjustment. That included cleaning with sewing machine oil, some new needles, TriFlow lubrication, gear grease and a new treadle belt. Not much, really. Very little was needed to make this one work again. It was used quite a bit in it's time and well cared for. The wear is in places that many years of fabric and hands passed over, as mine do now.

The Singer 12 here was made in 1884. The first model 12 also known as the "New Family" was made in the 1860's continuing for many years. The decal and designs for these are often very spectacular in true Victorian fashion with colorful patterns and mother of pearl inserts. Mine is a bit plain but still a fairly unusual decal pattern that is not seen often.


The machines came with a very practical set of attachments, of which I was lucky to have found in the cabinet drawer, along with the original hardware. So far I have not used them yet and am not completely sure what some are! Other parts are nearly unchaged to our times, such as the ruffler which is so beautiful on it's own.


Sewing with the Singer 12

A manual is needed. This one is from the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society. I recommend a visit to their site, and if you have a machine like this to join them. So much useful information!

I have been able to use this right away but must warn new owners operating this model is a bit different and can be a frustrating. It does take a bit of practice to get it all just right. I wrote on this site about my adventures with my other one, a handcrank.

Here are the areas that anyone first trying one out might want to review:

The Needle

The need required it is a 12x1 needle. There have been suggestions as to what else will work in place of this now extinct type but I have been able to find them so have not explored this further. My source is Vintage sewing machines treadle or hand crank by TreadleLady

*Setting the needle: This is going to be a trial and error process at first. Read the manual. The setting is described well but here it is in a nutshell -The needle groove goes in front. Thread is front to back.

How far the needle goes into the needle shaft is variable. On my machine here the top is exactly even with the clamp. On my other it sticks out about 1/8". Try it out, very slowly, until the needle doesn't hit the bobbin shuttle and will pick up thread.

The Bobbin



Wrap the thread a few times to get started. The end fits all the way into the winder. By the way mine was completely frozen and needed to be oiled a lot. The tire part pulls back to allow the bobbin to fit for winding.

On many machine there is a metal piece that the thread passes throughto wind the bobbin. There is not one here. Maybe there was, and it is missing but no matter this is quite simple to do by hand to get an even treading. I do this:

The Shuttle

The bobbins for the Singer 12 are much like a weaving shuttle. The shape is a bit like the later Singer 27 but with an essential difference- the thread tension is created by looping trough the side , over and through again the holes in the shuttle body then through the leaf. My first attempts at this were frustrating, so please be patient with yourself. Once you do it a few times it will work, amazingly. I found bobbin tension for ordinary poly/cotton thread was the second hole as shown. With different thread you may with to try it differently. Yeah, it's weird but it works great.

Now it is just set into the carrier and go. The transverse slide plate should move as shown above. My other Singer 12 had problems here and maybe some of you might as well. It was frozen closed from rust. If necessary, the shuttle can go in from the other side too, just get one slide plate free.

Making Adjustments


Pretty strait forward adjustments for the Singer 12. The main difference is that they are knobs on top rather than side adjustments with numbers. Not much is needed to get results so just experiment. Stitch lengh is often frozen up for older machines like this so more oil and maybe even try heat (I use a blow dryer) to free it up. Mine took a long time to move and is still tight! I do not recommend taking apart the faceplate unless there is a reason. The interior parts will all fall out. It is not assembled like a Singer 27 or 127. That is a later post, but be forewarned!

The Belt

I like to use rubber belting for my treadle so as to be able to get it on and off easy. Leather is good too and is available widely. If anyone here is unfamiliar with putting on a new belt, here is a great source for help on all things treadle with a section on belts.


Not much is needed to know how to do the actual sewing other than one big difference for a modern sewing operator. The tension discs do not release when the presser foot is lifted. It may be just my machines but neither of mine do this. Not a big deal but it will become a new habit to pull up the top tension disc when removing the work. The needle needs to be in the highest position to let the thread go as with other lockstitch machines.

So small a machine yet it can sew some heavy work. My guess is because it has very simple yet powerful gears inside.

After a bit of work and practice, this has become a really great machine to use. Here is her first major project in many years, done easily with good tension and accuracy.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Leviathan, Singer's 29 - 4

1905 Singer 29K-4
It is called many things such as the boot patcher, the cobbler, the leatherworker or the harness stitcher.  I call it the Leviathan after the large biblical sea monster.  The model number is 29-4  or 29K with this particular one being made in 1905.  They were in production earlier and later with modifications and model number changes.  Even today,  in the shop I am in during the week has two similar (though much more modern and electric) machines machines made by Consew and Brother.  Perhaps this huge thing could be useful to me?  Would it even work right?  Hmmm.
Gustave Dore, 1965.  "Destruction of the Leviathan"
 First thing was that it needed a few parts.  To my surprise, parts are easily available for this type of vintage machine.  That is not always the case.  Because so many are in use today there are dealers who cater to this.  Some parts from more recent models are compatible as well.  In this situation I needed a tension spring and one was on it's way to my house days later though it was made for a 1940's model.  Fit perfectly.  Needles, Bobbins, Wire threaders and rubber bobbin tires are available inexpensively.  Here's where I got my parts  - Sharp Sewing Supplies but there are many sources.
I found downloadable manual free of charge through the Singer Company.  Click this link: Singer 29K manual

Does it even work?  Well yes it does, but it took some getting used to.  The learning process is still going on.  It is quite different than a regular lockstitch in two ways:  The presser foot works as the feed from the top and the presser foot can be manipulated to move in different directions.  The reasons for this has to do with the primary function it was designed for.  That would be very close work as with shoe repairs.  It makes a lot of noise when operating but it is a pleasant one.  It sounds like "work".  Clank clank clank.

 As an example of it's work, see the image below.  With this pair of shoes, the stitching was coming apart at the bottom side and the overlapping part.  I was able to reinforce the stitches along the bottom then completely turn it to go the flap.  It did an excellent job and saved a favorite pair of Minnetonka shoes.  This would have been a tricky job even by hand because of the tight space at the bottom.  Very cool, very cool indeed.
The presser foot moves by moving this brass handle.
It is quite powerful and sews through heavy leather with no hesitation.  It is slow and cumbersome for sure but with leather fast is not what I am looking for.  I want a one time pass though so as not to make holes in the work.  I also have used this with heavy webbing.
Singer 29k Stitch Sample
Here is a stitch sample made with fairly heavy good quality leather.  The thread used is Jeans top stitching thread.  Heavy thread such as #69 works well too.  I have heard that the presser foot teeth on the underside will leave marks on the surface.  That is a possibility but has not occurred yet with anything I have yet done.  Another reason to get your seam right the first time.
The bobbins are very small and so is the machine arm.  This is what it looks like with the cover removed.
The design is to allow access to tight spaces and that has been very very handy a few times.  A drawback is that it also makes this less practical for doing very large things that need support.  There was a table extension available for these when you purchased them back when new.  There are plans for making them now and I may do that someday.  The time that would have been useful to have was when I was making a bag.  Holding it was a bit awkward on that tiny arm space.  This is what the extension table looked like as sold originally

Anyone who finds this post and is wondering how it's threaded may take note of this next section.  First, get a manual.  You NEED it to explain the bobbin loading and threading.  Simply put, it is not like other machines and you are not going to figure it out on your own.  The outside threading is easy to see but this part was a little confusing to me so here's a picture to clarify.

The thread is pushed down this hole after it leaves the tensioner.  It goes all the way down to the presser foot. 
You will need a threader like this.  There is a tiny hook at the end to hold the thread as you push it down.  Give yourself a lot of extra thread for this, as it can be very tiresome to keep having to re-do it. 

This is where the upper thread comes through.  To get at the bobbin, you will need to loosen the screw and turn the cover.
 Once you get familiar with the machine it is a kind of interesting thing to behold.  It is very masculine.  Of all the machines here this is the only one that my husband actually touched.  He was even the first one to use it.  Go figure.  Is it worth having?  Of course I always say yes but this one has a very different purpose than the others.  So far it has been very useful for repairs, less so for creativity.  If you fix heavy things, then maybe you could use this.  If you just want to make things than maybe not.  That said, I have made a few things with it that would have been very difficult otherwise, like these little shoes. What's another machine anyway.

My leviathan, it is a beautiful beast.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The "Grasshopper" Elna's Number 1

Elna 1

This was one machine I had to have, upon seeing it.  Not because I needed it, not because of how well it works or even how rare it is.  Just because it is so amazing cool.  The design is unique and color, well I do have a fondness for machine that are colored anything but white.  I introduce you to the Elna company's first machine, the #1 also widely known as "the Grasshopper".  From this view you can see why it got this nickname.  The knee lift and green color has a certain grasshopper quality.

The design was created by Ramon Casas from Spain in the mid 1930's.  His observations about the difficulty of sewing sleeves of garments brought about free arm.  Timing was a problem for this idea as war began in his home country and later in Europe.  Years would go by before the design came to production.  That is why it has a very 1930's look.  The company that finally did make this machine was Tavaro SA of Geneva Switzerland in 1940.  It was a munitions factory that decided to take on this project.  It was a resounding success.  This would explain the look of the case, just like an ammo box.  From the outside one would not guess a sewing machine was inside.  That's also why it has no model number, it is simply 1.  It was the only one they made, but with this success it was not the last.

Post war sales were quite brisk, as this little machine represented a major change in the home machine industry just when it was needed most.  Now, timing was on it's side.  Postwar demand was big for a lightweight (15 pounds) free arm machine for simple basic tasks. It was the world's first free arm sewing machine.
Advertising for a Grasshopper

My particular machine was made in 1950.  By the way, it was good year for sewing machines in general.  I have several made in and around that year, all excellent.  Singers, Pfaffs and Elna's Oh my. As an aside, this model was copied almost exactly.  I saw one in an ad but did not buy it, possibly made by General electric or Westinghouse.  If anyone knows help me please.  Just like the Grasshopper only in grey.  I am so sorry I did not get it.  They are out there still.
Elna 1's accessories set
It is a strait stitch sewing machine that takes common low shank attachments.  The bobbins are the normal Elna type, and you can use 15x1 needles.  I get all those easily but if you need any particular parts are out there.  I got some replacements rubber foot pads from White's Sewing Center.  This is an excellent resource with all kinds of things for your Grasshopper and Supermatics too.
My Grasshopper came with a small set of accessories and a tiny tin box. The one thing it has that has proven to be a really helpful one is the part made of black plastic upper left.  It is a slow gear.  Many machines today have this built in feature but in 1950 not so.  By placing it on the machine it slows down the speed in an even way, perfect for darning or very precise work. It fits on like this:
Elna 1's low gear cover.
Being a low shank machine makes it easy to use attachments.  I use a regular 1/4" foot all the time.
Elna 1 with quilter's piecing foot attached
Using the Zig Zagger
There's more.  It works well with a walking foot and a zig-zag attachment.  In my case, I use a little one called a Chadwicks ZigZagger.  
When I wrote this post some time ago, I was not able to get a buttonholer to work on this machine.  Since then, with the help of a reader, I was able to get it to work.  I was just not thinking about it enough.  Here is how it works:

Singer Buttonholer with Elna 1
The key to success here is using the little feed dog cover that comes as part of the attachment set.  Normally the buttonholer has it's own plate but that does not fit e little free arm of the Elna.  Use the accessory shown in the photo.

Now the buttonholer will work fine.  

Adjusting the Stitch Length
Elna can be adjusted by lengthening the stitches but that's about it in the fancy automation area.  Here is how to set the length and an example of the stitches it makes.

To set the stitch length.
Stitches for Elna 1

The size makes this a easy machine to take places much like the famous Singer 221 Featherweight.  The case also folds out to make room for big things like quilts.  I have used it for that but really, the space to the right of needle (harp space) is waaaaay to small to do this all the time.

Some things to know about the Elna #1.  They are quite simple but like everything to be oiled.  I keep this little one very clean and oil all parts as required.  This leads me to mention a starting discovery:  It will sometimes smoke when first started   Boy this scared me first time!  I later found out that it's pretty normal and not to panic.  This great help came from a Yahoo group for vintage Elna machines.  I recommend finding help if you need it, there are many fans of these old timers.  This machine is also prone to running slow.  This could be mine, however.  I prefer a foot control but these come only with a knee lift.  It does make it easier to travel with as there is one less cord to tangle and that's nice.  That leads me to this last topic, it travels so well and is interesting to all who see it.  You will, however, be pounded with questions and comments when you take this out of it's case.  It's impossible to quietly start sewing on it if there is anyone else around.  That includes people who do not sew.

If you live in a complicated world, sometimes it's nice to just enjoy the simplicity of an old sewing machine.  This one is all that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Singer 12 "New Family"

Singer 12 "New Family" Handcrank 1884
A new member of the sewing machine family came to live with us recently.  It is one I have long been interested in, the Singer 12.  It is also called "the New Family" machine.  This particular one was made in 1884.  So tiny, so beautiful despite the condition.  This was a sad case.  Here is what it was like when I got it.

Rusted and frozen.
The machine was very well used and then left where water got to it from what I can tell.  The rust was and is quite bad.  Because of that, the machine has large areas where the paint is gone and some parts that are irreparably damaged.  The good news is that it's complete.  It even has it's bobbin.  Singer 12's are not super rare but still not common enough for parts to be easy to find.  That means I will have to make due with what is here.  Thank goodness for Evaporust.  It has cleaned up many small parts already.  
The slide plates are in poor shape with one not removable.  I was able to get one free so as to be able to get the bobbin and shuttle in order. The shuttle moves side to side!
Horizontal orientation for the shuttle.
 This is one area that is quite different than any other Singer I have - the bobbin tension is set by weaving the thread though little holes in the shuttle.  It's a bit complicated and I am still figuring it all out.
Bobbin and Shuttle.  Note the holes and spring in the shuttle.

People who like these old machines will eventually come across this issue at one time or another.  Old iron is heavy and fragile.  That's a terrible combination.  This Singer 12 had a broken piece that made it unstable.  I resorted to this method, and it worked perfectly.  It was glued with JB Weld. 
Repaired with JB Weld

I found a Singer 12 needle set and new rubber winder tire.  If you find you need one, the rubber tire for the winder is the same size as the ones for the Singer 29-4.  That is a fairly easy to find part.  I am still searching for a good source for needles but Ebay does have them.
Cleaning was slow and there was a lot of debris inside.  Dirty!  For this process I used Gojo non-pumice and cotton balls.  Later I used sewing machine oil.

After some cleaning.
The Singer 12 has a system for setting in the needle that can be a problem.  You must set the needle by sight, not by setting it in a slot.  It is not too hard, just takes some attention.  The needles go in with the groove and eye facing you.  Here is a photo of the placement.
Needle placement.  Note the tiny part at the top of the clamp.
Now to the sewing. Would this even work?  It was not looking good.  It took a while to get it right as this machine is so different that the model 27.   Even putting it together after cleaning was a little tense.  Thankfully I did take photos of where everything was before I removed the parts so as to put it back correctly.  So many issues!  

The tension discs are not in good shape from rust and also a problem with the thread take up or check spring caused all the mess.  What about the crazy shuttle thread winding?  Add to it the needle placement adjustments through trial and error.  Eventually I did get it to make a decent stitch.

There will be more work to come.  There is hope.  This little machine deserves to be useful again and I'll see to it that it is.