Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Sewing Machine Addiction

Hi, my name is Maria, and I'm addicted to old sewing machines.

 It started out innocent enough. I wanted to get into sewing, but didn't have the money for a new machine. One day, whilst perusing our local thrift store, I saw an old machine for only $5. I figured, what the heck, for five bucks I can teach myself to sew, and then someday when I have the money I can buy myself a better machine. This was my first hit.

Well, that first five dollars taught me a lot. The first thing it taught me, was that there is such thing as a straight stitch only machine. Yep, it goes forwards and backwards. Straight line. That's it. Granted, you don't really need much more than that to sew most stuff, but it does prevent you from doing more complicated projects. I tinkered with the Dressmaker for a bit, but it just didn't seem to sew very nicely, so I decided to head back to the thrift sore and try my luck again. There had been a second machine there at the time I bought the Dressmaker. It had also been $5, but it was really, really dirty inside so I had passed it up. Boy, am I bummed that I did. It was a beautiful blue Morse. She looked kind of like this:

Image found at Great site!
Gorgeous, isn't it? Unfortunately, she was gone. I wandered the outdoor furniture area for a bit, hoping to come across a consolation prize, when I noticed that the workers were unloading a truck full of new donations. There, out in front, was a beautiful old machine in a cabinet. My heart went pitter-patter. I casually floated by and looked her over.... I laid my hand on the flywheel and gazed at her beauty. I looked her over for a price sticker, but she must have been fresh off the truck. No price. I moved away, but she whispered to me again... twice more I wandered past, her soft voice beckoning me to stay with her. Finally, I couldn't resist any longer. I turned to one of the ladies unloading, a woman I knew to be a head honcho at the store. How much did they want for the machine and cabinet?

"Oh, you can take it. They never sell anyway."

I couldn't believe my ears! Really? I can just HAVE it? I tried to keep my cool as I walked back to my car. In reality, I could have skipped. I carefully loaded the whole thing into the back of my Bonneville and proceeded to drive as fast and yet a gently as I could back home. SHE WAS MINE! This is my first and greatest love, a Singer Slant-O-Matic 404 in her original cabinet:

Hello, sweetheart.

 It turns out that the 404 is also a straight stitch machine, BUT she is a force to be reckoned with! Made in 1959, this little lady was built to stitch through anything. I ended up having to buy a missing part, but once that new part was in she sewed smooth and quiet.

Ah, the day I brought her home! She needs a bath.
One of the greatest perks to buying an old Singer machine, is you can find TONS of information on them, much of it from Singer themselves. You can get manuals, parts schematics, even replacement parts for just about every Singer ever sold!

Slant-O-Matic or gangster lean, you decide.

As much as I adore my sweet, hardworking 404, that pesky straight stitch issue kept me on the lookout for a more versatile machine. A few months later, I happened upon this little lady.

The duct tape is from the case, which is broken.
 She's a Singer Stylist 457. All she does is straight and zig-zag, but I'm convinced that's all you really need to get by. This machine taught me a few more lessons. First, don't trust the staff when they say "yeah, it works." I got it home, went to try it out, and promptly shattered a plastic gear. A gear that is notorious for breaking, as I quickly learned. It took me a good six months before I got around to replacing the gear (surprisingly easy) and re-timing it (absolute pain in the butt). Second lesson, was always do a search on the model you are looking at. Old doesn't guarantee good, and it doesn't guarantee bad. (Look for quilting and sewing forums to read from people who collect and use old machines. This is where you'll get your best reviews.) Unfortunately, everything I read about the Stylist said that it was meant mostly for light-duty sewing. My few test runs have confirmed this. It just doesn't have the "oomf" that the 404 has.The third lesson I gleaned from this one, is that gears make the difference. Older machines, meaning -for the most part- before 1960, used all metal gears. The only belts, if there were any at all, attached the motor to the flywheel. That's it. Metal gears almost never wear out, and it takes a lot to slow them down.

Because it took me so long to fix the Stylist, I continued to keep my eye out for machines that might have even more stitches or power than my previous three. That's right, I'm up to three machines now. Next machine to catch my eye was this little thing and her cabinet, which we found at Goodwill. (I've developed an eagle eye for sewing cabinets, and nine times out of ten there's still an inhabitant tucked underneath. It's like treasure hunting.)

This is a Singer Touch & Sew 600E. First thing this machine taught me, is that I didn't learn my lesson with the Stylist. I should have gone home and done my research before plunking out $20. To date, she is the most expensive machine I've ever bought, and that's accounting for parts and repair. If you do half a minute of research, you'll see that this is a notoriously troublesome machine. It's not that she isn't good quality. The gears are all metal and she can do a wide variety of stitches without cams. However, the bobbin winding system is a train wreck. Some T&S machines apparently worked very well, but this is one of the ones that didn't. I tinkered with this thing on and off for months. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get her to sew properly. Then, when I was giving it one final attempt last February, I accidentally broke a screw thread. You know, the one the online tutorials said that YOU SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE BREAK BECAUSE IT'S A UNIQUE SIZE AND CAN'T BE REPLACED!

Well, nuts.

Good thing the cabinet is gorgeous and worth the $20 by itself.

Oh, and in the meantime, I happened to inherit Hubby's grandmother's sewing machine.

Easily the heaviest machine in my collection.

An Elgin 2468, built in 1958 by Viking. She's beautiful and built like a TANK, but unfortunately they never found the cams while cleaning out Grandma's house. (cams, by the way, are little discs that allowed machines to make special stitch patterns. Many machines can barely do a straight stitch without their cams.) This was heartbreaking, but I plan to keep my eye out for a set on ebay. I'm not holding my breath, however. This model seems to be incredibly rare. Heck, even Google has barely heard of it.

In case you're wondering, this now puts me at five sewing machines. I'm not done yet...

At this point, I decided I really need to stop buying machines, at least until I unload some of the old ones. I was doing a good job of keeping my hands in my pockets, until a friend on Facebook said she needed to get rid of an old treadle sewing machine, and would anyone be interested? Um, yes. Yes I would. We had just traded my Bonneville for a Grand Caravan, and what better way to christen all that cargo space, than with a treadle sewing machine!

This is a Singer 27, made sometime around 1904! The decorative pattern is called Gingerbread or Tiffany's, I've heard it both ways. (NO YOU HAVEN'T, SHAWN!) The cabinet has six drawers, which puts it at the top of the line in its day. Both the machine and the cabinet are in rough shape, but with a little (ok, a lot) of TLC, I know I can get it up and running again. Until then, the cabinet is stashed in the basement where my boys can't destroy it further, and the machine is in my sewing area, where I can ogle it every day.

Gorgeous details everywhere!

Again, I told myself NO MORE MACHINES. I tried to get rid of a few via Facebook, but no takers. I had the Dressmaker and the Stylist up and running, but no one wanted an old machine. So, for now, here they sit. (I actually have a plan for them now. Stay tuned!)

And so, a few more months passed by, and my mind wandered away from sewing machines and back towards gardening and preserving. Funny how the cycle of the seasons moves you in and out of your various projects and hobbies. I really hadn't thought about it much until last week, when the fam and I were once again wandering around our favorite thrift store. Spotting two sewing cabinets at 100 yards (give or take) I decided to take a peek under the lid, for curiosity's sake. The first one was a lousy looking Singer from the '60s. The next one was in possibly the ugliest cabinet I had seen to date. Awful '70s wicker drawer fronts, but even worse, the "wicker" was plastic! Oh, Lordy. I popped it open, and found an interesting Kenmore machine. Nothing special, so far as I could tell, although she was in good condition (I need to start bringing smal screwdrivers with me to thrift stores.) Then I noticed there was a full-size drawer in the cabinet. Usually it's just a little secret compartment that fits scissors and about 8 pins. I pulled the drawer open... and started to geek out. It was full, and I mean FULL of sewing junk. Buttons, ribbon, thread, the manual, and TWO boxes of original attachments! One included several presser feet and a buttonholer, while the other one held a full set of cams!

You would be proud of me. I didn't buy the machine. It was $15 for everything, and while I knew I could make that much just selling the cam set, I decided to be smart and not buy a SEVENTH sewing machine. And so, a few days went by. I just could not get that drawer of goodies out of my mind. There was no way I was going to spend $15 on another machine without a darn good excuse, so I came up with one. "What if the cams fit the Elgin? I mean, if they don't fit I can just sell them and make my money back, but what if they DID?"

I'd like to take a moment here to say that I have an amazingly patient and supportive husband. Not only does he not mind my tomfoolery, he often encourages me. With his blessing, I skipped off to see if the Kenmore cabinet was still there.

It was.

This is my seventh and FINAL machine! (to date...)

Window back lighting is a pain.
 This is a Sears Kenmore 1703, top of the line in her day, and she has all the bells and whistles. Built in stretch stitches, built in edging stitches (no need for a serger!), and the ability to chain stitch.

Bottom drawer is removable and has legs! The only redeeming feature.
I think she only had one other owner, and that person wasn't much of a sewer. Many of the attachements are in their original packaging!

I still haven't had a chance to sew with her yet, as I'm moving my sewing space from a heaped corner in my bedroom to our overstuffed office/man cave. It's remarkable how well we've fit everything in. I don't anticipate a problem with getting the Kenmore to sew, however. She's in immaculate condition inside and out. Not a speck of dust!

Well, there you have it. The long, babbling account of how a girl who couldn't afford one new machine ended up with seven old ones! In addition, I have four sewing cabinets and the treadle. My total investment at this point, including parts I replaced, comes to about $72. In the next few weeks, I plan on trying to recoup some of that money, and in the process downsize my collection.

I don't regret any of my purchases. I learned a lot from each one, and the challenge of trying to repair them taught me a new skill. I found that I enjoy repairing machines almost as much as I enjoy sewing with them! I don't yet have experience with the motor and electrical work, but I know that will come in time. I am addicted to these machines for life!


  1. Maria, I think I found your Pinterest post on the Elgin machine and left a message regarding the bobbin requirements. Fortunately for my daughter and I we have the cams. What we don't have is any bobbins. Any assistance from you regarding the type or photos of the bobbin in your machine would be wonderful! Thanks!, Kassie

    1. Kassie,
      Ha! You did find me! Then again, there is so little out there on this machine, I'm not too surprised. Kinda scary in this day and age when even GOOGLE doesn't know what you're talking about! I get quite a few hits from people looking up info on the Elgin. Maybe someday I'll write a post with what little I know, and see if others can add their nuggets of wisdom.

      The Elgin (as I know you saw on Pinterest) takes the standard class 15 bobbins. You make sure your daughter treasures those cams! Those things are a rare gift to find! Have a beautiful Christmas season!

  2. I have an Elgin 2468! Have you been able to find the cams anywhere? I have only one :( I use this machine all the time, it still works great! It required a little love and attention, but its a beast!

    1. Hi Nikki! I haven't been able to find the cams yet, but to be honest I haven't been looking very hard lately. Still having fun with my Kenmore. :)

      I had several sweet folks lend their knowledge on my Pinterest pin here:

      Here is the link to a picture of the cam case one person found. It's not Elgin brand, but they apparently work! The downside is there are so few markings that it will still take some guesswork to find the right cams! Oh well, any lead is better than none!

      I hope this helps! Good luck on your search, and if you manage to find a match, please let us know! I and many other Elgin owners would be eternally grateful. :D

  3. I just found an Elgin 2468 at a thrift shop in a cabinet, with all the cams. Haven't tried it out yet.

  4. Does that sewing machine have any value to it the model 27 with the ginger bread pattern

    1. Darlin, that answer is going to be different in every city and in every thrift shop and garage sale! If it's in working order and the decals are in good/excellent condition, you might be able to get something for it, assuming you can reach your target market. Certain decals are valued more than others (for example, the Red Eye and the Sphinx), but I couldn't even attempt to put a dollar value on it. Too man variables. Start by knowing what kind of machine you have and in what condition, then look at similar machines on Ebay and Craigslist. Even Goodwill has an online shopping site now, and they often list sewing machines. From there you can guess at a reasonable price for your area.

      Good luck!

  5. That Kenmore is gorgeous !

  6. Your treadle with the Gingerbread decals would bring at least $200 in my area, even if not working. I have that Gingerbread decal on a model 15, I believe, that's not in a cabinet. It's the fanciest machine I own (and I have 18 vintage), including my Sphinx treadle... :)

  7. I found a set of cams on ebay a couple of weeks ago. I took a picture of the stitches on the machine and compared them to the pictures of the cams on ebay. The cams are green and in a beige box. They have no name on the box or identification stating what sewing machine they belong to. The person I purchased my Elgin 2468 from is still looking for the cams, if they find them I will let you know and sell them to you, if you haven't found any by then. I'm not home to check, but it looks like there is a set on ebay now for $14.95 selling by tzshopper.

  8. I now own 16 machines... my favs are two necchi supernova in an oak cabinet and a new home D in gorgeous treadle cabinet and singer 201 centennial in cabinet in perfect condition...
    I just enjoy restoring them...
    I'm a spiritual enlightenment teacher and angel worker and my inner child runs my life... yippee..
    Have fun... never feel guilty... you deserve it...
    Bless Edward

  9. While searching to try to find out how old my machine is I came across your blog. I bought my White 2468, which is identical to your Viking 2468, in 1974 or so from my boyfriend's sister. Still have it, still use it regularly. Have the cams too. Thought you'd like to see a photo but not sure how to post one :) I also have a couple of really old machines and cabinets from my husband's grandmother, should maybe put them all in my craft room together to display, as I currently have them all over the house.

  10. I bought anew old featherweight at a little junk store for $50 when I was in my early 20's. Original book, nredles, stuff still had tape on it because it was obviously not used. I made curtains, pillow shams etc. Then later I bought a new singer that I sewed a,few things with, my mom is a really great seamstress. My husbands grandfather passed away and since I'm the only sewer I got a super nice walnut Cabinet with a 1972 singer 778, all attachments etc. And a 338 portable with only the zig zag cam in the machine, no attachments. Bought a vintage 401a slantomatic, with all attachments and it has tons stiches without cams plus 5 cams that came with it. I have an old singer 15-91 my mom gave me, a white treadle that I need to get working and an old Cabinet that my husband had and has no udea,where it came from. I bought another machine today at vendors mall a stylist, might regret that, but the cabinet was,really nice, machine looked like it had barely been used so we will see, I literally threw,out a newer model cheap machine, stripped everything off that I might use elsewhere. The 338 and 401 are all metal gears and run like a dream. I'm quilting on the 401.

  11. Maria wrote, " She's a Singer Stylist 457. All she does is straight and zig-zag, but I'm convinced that's all you really need to get by."

    If you look at the selector facing forward on the top cover, you can select zig-zag or blindstitch for hemming.

    I bought one I assumed was a 237, even though it clearly says 457 on the front. I didn't check it out enough. Paid $25, which is way too much for a machine with a broken gear and apparent spilled liquid in the bobbin area. The rotating part is rusted to the bobbin carrier. Looks fixable. The gear is on order. It'll be fun. Live and learn.

  12. Yes, my favorite is the Singer 404. Look for a 403A Special or a 503.