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.