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.

38 comments:

  1. Beautiful work! I love being reminded that we once built things to last. And last!

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  2. Good job saving this little gem. She is beautiful.

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  3. Huzzahs to you for saving another vintage beauty from rust & dust! :D

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  4. What a pretty machine. I haven't tried to sew with my shuttle machines yet. Since I didn't grow up sewing, I get the round bobbins, but, not the long bobbins yet. I better learn quickly, since I'm hoping to demo all my machines next month.

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  5. The long bobbins are not hard to use in my opinion. The only time I had some trouble was the loading the bobbin in the shuttle the very first time on my 27. Those old time directions are so wordy that I got a little confused. After that initial time it has been no trouble at all. Get some practice, people are always fascinated by seeing the shuttle them in action! Last time I showed mine in action I took an old weaving shuttle - you can see how one idea goes to another. The shuttles are so much alike only one is small.

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  6. Thanks all. I'll post on this one again when I get it sewing really well.

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  7. Beautiful machine! You did an excellent job cleaning and getting the machine to stitch.

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  8. Heya! Ran across your blog while doing some research on a Civil-War-Era Wheeler & Wilson machine...

    I'm a sewing machine technician from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and I had the opportunity to do a restoration on a Singer Model 12 a little over a year ago. After consulting the needle cross-reference charts at ISMACS, I found a modern substitution for the obsolete 12 x 1 needle that this machine originally called for.

    I can reliably state, from personal experience, that an industrial needle system 16 x 257 *will* work in this machine; I used a #14/90 for my sew-out, and it worked like a charm. As you note, getting the needle set properly is a little fiddly, but you should be able to sort it out satisfactorily.

    Those needles should be available from any vendor that stocks industrial needles, and should cost about $6.00-$10.00 for a package of ten...way more affordable than vintage originals!

    Hope this is helpful, and I'll look forward perusing your archive in greater depth!

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    1. How does this replacement needle work? I just bought some on your recommendation and comparing to the original needle, the base is fatter and I can't for the life of me get it into place. I have a Singer model 12/12K from 1889... What am I doing wrong? :(

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  9. Thank you so much for the information about the needles. I'll order some, since I have this old girl working pretty well now. Ready to try it on a real project.
    Now we have to figure out a way to get new needles for the old Wheeler and Wilsons!

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  10. Thank you for posting about such a beautiful machine! I am in awe of the work you did to get her restored to her original beauty.

    I had the fortune on finding an 1879 model 12 the other day. She is not nearly as pretty as your, as she is simple black, but I am smitten already. I was hoping you might share some insight. I am trying to locate a shuttle, bobbin, and bobbin winder wheel so that she can get sewing again. Also, if you had a moment, I would love to have a description or photo of the bobbin winder wheel. I only have the metal 'U' or 'W' shaped frame and have no idea what the wheel/tire assembly looks like. From what I can tell, it seems fairly simple, but probably impossible to find.

    Thank you for your time!
    Best wishes!

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  11. I can certainly help you. Since this post another one has come my way, that operates much better though it is slightly older. Because of that, I have become a little more familiar with this model. Right now I am not able to post any photos but will do it soon. In the meantime, you may wish to join a group of people who use and restore maxhines such as this....www.treadleon.org. There is a forum to joinand you can ask questions. There are others who have the Singer 12.

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  12. Thank you for the info! Congrats on the other one, I'm hoping mine might attract another as well. I finally got my hands on a shuttle and bobbin (still hunting the bobbin winder), but I would love to know how you solved the tension issue. The shuttle tension is fine, but the upper tension does not want to get tight enough. I have adjusted the top screw, but the tension discs just don't seem to get tight enough to not get a loopy mess below. Was hoping you had some insight.
    Thanks again! Sorry to be such a pest. I did join TO, but since you had worked with this machine (w/such great photos) I thought I would ask.

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  13. I was able to fix the tension issue by discovering the problem was beyond the discs. It was the thread take up lever, very bent. The discs are also troublesome and in my own case it is the opposite problem as yours, too tight! Try to clean the discs with a cotton string soaked in alcohol to clean it. The mechanism that makes the tension discs work is pretty simple but opening the faceplate to access it is not as easy as in other machines.......the presser bar and needle bar will fall out! You may have to go that route to make sure the screw that makes the little discs go together are actually engaged.

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  14. Thank you for the reply!!
    I have to laugh, I just spent a good while messing with it and figured that oddly the disc tension is okay when the faceplate is off, but when I put it back on (while juggling all the posts like you said), the little post pushes up against the inside and loosens the discs! I finally found a washer with my tools and put in under the discs (on the outside of the machine) to create a bit more thickness. Now she sews great! I wonder if it is missing a spring, washer, or some other little piece on the disc post, either on the inside or outside.
    Thank you for your assistance! Happy sewing!

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  15. I also have a 12/12k from 1889 according to its serial number, and I'm trying to find replacement tension discs (only one was on the machine - no trace of #2). Does anyone know where I could get a set, or perhaps something similar that could function as a replacement?
    Thanks.

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  16. There are no replacement discs as far as I know My suggestion to you is to seek out spare parts from another machine. There are people out there with such machines and can help. Try joining a group called TreadleOn, a fun crowdmof people who fix and operate human powered sewing machines. There is an email forum to join. There is also a buy sell page. Look there

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  17. Thanks, I'll have a look. I read above about how there is a modern replacement for the needles that works..How does this replacement needle work? I just bought some on the recommendation and comparing to the original needle, the base is fatter and I can't for the life of me get it into place (it physically will not fit). What am I doing wrong? :(

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  18. Sorry I can't help you as I do not have the needle ypunspeak of. I just bought some 12x1 needles on Ebay and they work fine. Because I have motnused em up yet have not tried any other.
    If anyone can help....please join in!

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  19. I just bought an old Pffaf. It has the same bobbin set up as your Singer here. There are so many old treadle sewing machines in France for sale, very cheap. I just bought 2 machines and the Pfaff was the price of a bottle of wine. An ordinary bottle. I am trying still to figure out how to get the machine to work. I managed to wind the bobbin beautifully but after many hours have managed only a few good sews. I shall do a post on my blog.

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  20. I had a lot of trouble with this one, due to poor condition. I sews but not well. Rust is a problem too. Recently I found another, that works perfect, first time out. It was ready to be trashed, the cabinet was horroble but machine was in order so I took it. In the process using the working one I learned a little more about where problems occur, with a good working example to go by. These are really different. for help with your Pfaff, try TreadleOn.net. They have a email bulletin board with many members. Several have Pfaffs like yours and many with Singer 12's.

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  21. I have a machine like this and it needs the slide plate on the right and a needle and the clamp to hold it in place. Have you found a source for parts. would love to get mine stitching.

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  22. I gave up trying to find repalcement slide plates and made one from an old credit card. There is a possible source to try and it is through a group called Treadle On. They have an excellent email forum but also a fleamarket page. On the page are people who sell parts for machines like our 12's. Pay a visit to www.treadleon.net
    Look for the various pages there. I got needles on ebay easily. Look for slide plates and needlebar clamps on the fleamarket.

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  23. Just come into my possession is a New Family Fiddle Base machine which I think was made in NY in 1888 the machine itself is in good condition really just some TLC is needed, I really love this machine and cant wait to get going on it my husband is going to check it out for me its really pretty its also got a case which is a bit battered as you would expect for the age ! I am going to look on ebay for needles now !!!!

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    1. Best wishes to you and your machine. I have since gotten another, quite by chance and it is in much better condition than the one I wrote about here. It works perfectly and is very interesting even when not working. Great news.

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  24. I am very impressed with your restoration work as I have just been through the same process with a Wertheim 'Triumph' in rather better condition and nearly gave up. However it is now sewing like a beauty and I am so pleased with the result. Thanks for the pictures which inspired me to keep going.

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  25. HI I am new to collecting...but have always loved older machines. I have a chance to buy this machine that looks in much better condition with many floral decals intact...I've been told I could not restore it as parts are never available. He onl wants 75.00 for it and I don't want to see it die...Please advise...
    Details about Antique SINGER Fiddle Base Treadle Sewing Machine Head 1888 This machine moves freely and has the shuttle. I don't sew therefore I cannot say if it sews or not. All indications point to it working. The serial number puts it as an 1888 model.

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  26. Of course you ask the biggest enabler ever if you should get a sewing machine....and so my advice is yes get it. It is true the parts are hard to find sometimes. Singer is the most common of the time so there is a better chance to find what you need. There are many people out there to help with any repairs through Online groups. My favorite is a Yahoo group called TreadleOn. If this is just the machine and not the base or table then it might be hard to locate those but even then not impossible. Keep me posted about what happens, I have more help to give if you need it. I found another Singer 12 since this post and this time it was in great shape and works great so have some practice with sewing with this model.

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  27. I really enjoyed your post. I just started purchasing antique Singers. I have a Singer from 1888 fiddle base model VS2 and a Singer from 1884 fiddle base "improved family". I am starting to restore both. I have 3 Singers model 66.

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    1. I see you are also on the road to madness. I also have a Improved Family, it has not been on this blog but suppose I better do that! It works great. If you need help with your projects I suggest joining Treadle On at Yahoo groups. You would be most welcome there.

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  28. My Singer model 12 is solid black with no decals. All parts are moving, the base cabinet is original but without its coffin top. I just received a belt. Needles are coming. I'm hoping to have in sewing this week. Your post was very helpful to me with regards to needl placement and cleaning! Thank you.

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    1. Best wishes to you. DId you see my latest post on the 12? I had better results and added some images to help.

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  29. I have a total of 27 antique sewing machine and three of them is a singer model 12, the model 12 is the best by far. I am hook for life; my madness started from 2 free singers from craigslist. I am still looking for more model 12.

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  30. Thanks so much for the information and pictures. I just got a Singer 12k. It seems in good condition but I haven't tried to sew with it. Your machine has nice decals. Mine has Mother of pearl almost no decals are left. Thanks, Denby

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  31. I did join Treadleon. I haven't asked them anything yet. I am curious about my new machine. My belt cover is in 2 pieces with a hinge. I can't find anything like that. I have about 16 machines now and 12 are Singers.

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    1. I have not seen a two part belt cover. I have another Model 12 that I wrote about here, my latest entry. That one works really well. Glad you joined TreadleOn, a great group.

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