I posted this photo on Instagram the other day and a few people commented that it was a good idea, so I thought I’d share it here for Tools & Toys Tuesday: washi tape seam allowance markings for your sewing machine! As simple as it looks, just measure out 1/4″ seam allowance from your needle point and lay a piece of washi tape down at that point. In fact, because washi tape magically lifts perfectly and leaves no sticky residue in its wake, it’s also a great solution for the odd larger seam allowance or marking you might need to follow only once – just pull it off when you’re done!
Now, I do enjoy being thought of as a clever gal, but this really isn’t an original idea. I did think of it independently a few years ago when I realized (sigh, after a lot of sewing) that my then-new modern machine’s 1/4″ marking wasn’t quite right, but I’ve seen other sewing machine owners do the same thing. I used boring old electrical tape back then, but I switched to washi tape somewhere along the way ’cause, well, it’s just so much prettier!
Following up from the other week, when I shared the new love of my life with you all – I’ve made my Bettie a little slipcover!
Of course, Bettie (her new name, obviously – the name because there are so many great vintage ones – Bette Davis, Betty & Veronica, Betty Rubble, Betty Boop, Betty Grable; but with an ‘ie’ as a slight tribute to the saucy and charming pin-up Miss Bettie Page) has a great carrying case she can live in, but I want to be able to keep her out on a table for convenient sewing and I wouldn’t want her to get all dusty!
I needed a little project for Bettie and I to get to know each other with. Something that wouldn’t have serious consequences if it wasn’t perfect. I used some of my most precious scraps and whipped this patchwork up, which was perfect for getting to know a new machine with – basically brainless and speedy, so I could focus on the machine rather than the piecing. I had to fiddle with thread tension and presser foot tension, back and forth until they were just right, and oiling and then re-fiddling with the thread tension when I realized halfway through this project that I had it slightly mis-threaded. D’oh! So all these little kinks were worked out and, together, Bettie and I made her a charming little cover. Which I embroidered with her name. Of course. ‘Cause I’m a giant dork.
A friend shared some Sugru with me, which is bizarre and magical stuff, so I was able to make a new bed cushion (aka rubber foot thingamy) since Bettie was missing one and bed cushions in the right size for the white Featherweights are apparently impossible to find. But it’s all perfect now!
Oh, and I asked Singer about her age – they weren’t incredibly helpful, to be honest. They told me that they thought my Bettie was made in Edinburgh in 1968 because she’s a white model, which I’ve seen references to online. But her serial code indicates that she was made in 1964, according to Singer’s own charts. I’m not sure why the discrepancy, and Singer made no attempt to explain it, so for now I’m just calling her a 1960s model.
The motor buzzing I’d been hearing stopped for a while – but then came back, so I’ve gotten some recommendations for places I might have her serviced. But that’s just noise – I’ve sewn a great deal on her now, and not a single stitch is out of place or even so much as crooked! Best vintage buy ever!
If you follow me on Instagram (and you should! If only to see 20 photos of my gorgeous Oscar-cat every day.) or Flickr, you probably already know about my big vintage news: this gorgeous white Singer Featherweight came home to live with me this week!
This lovely thing is a Singer Featherweight 221K – actually, to be exact, I think she’s a 221K-7. The white models seem less common and their model number is slightly different. I spied her in a charity shop and knew right away she was special, but thought it would be a silly purchase. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about her. And I started doing research about the 221s against my own will. Because a very kind friend was able to help me, stopping by the shop to investigate further and reserve the machine for me, of course I went back to get her a few days later.
I’m so in love! She’s so tiny. And in great condition! Before I went back to buy it, I did look into what owning this machine would really mean, effort-wise. I mean, I didn’t want to jump in just ’cause she was pretty and not know what I was getting into. I own two other vintage Singers (I’ll have to post about those someday too), but I don’t take them out much right now – they’re beautiful but not terribly practical. But this one: if I was going to have a small, portable machine like a Featherweight, I wanted to be able to really use it and be able to take it to sewing days or workshops.
I checked to make sure she actually ran before I bought it, but I couldn’t know for sure how much work or repair would be needed to get her at her best. My research told me that parts would be fairly easy to come by – I may have to do some searching, but I’d probably be able to find anything I needed eventually. These Featherweights are not uncommon; you can find plenty of them on eBay or online vintage shops. I got a lucky deal on price – at least a quarter what people pay on eBay! – because mine came from a charity shop, but I knew I could end up making up the cost difference with maintenance anyway. But as long as I wasn’t going to get a machine home and find out it was useless without some obscure part I’d never find, I was happy to make a project of it.
So, since she’s come to live with me, I’ve been cleaning, oiling – and mostly learning. There’s a lot of information about Featherweights out there, people are so devoted to them! But owning a vintage machine like this isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart – they need much more hands-on care than a modern machine (oiling at least once a week, for example, when it’s running well) and I will possibly still send her off to a professional for a servicing anyway, because the motor isn’t as quiet as I know it should be. I am also trying to find replacement rubber feet for the bottom, because one is missing, which is proving to be tricky to find.
But the pay-off for the extra attention these machines need is that you will know it so much better than a modern one. After less than a week of cleaning and fixing, I already understand how a sewing machine works better than I ever have before. I understand that not everyone would love this part – most of us would like to just get sewing already! – but I do. I love putting so much into getting this beauty running at her best, and getting to know her like this. I love that it may take me months to find the exact-sized rubber feet and when I do, it will be absurdly exciting. I see her like some people much see vintage cars – searching for information and parts is half the fun.
And in the meantime: now that she’s clean and oiled and adjusted, she sews like a dream. Perfect, lovely stitches. I may still tinker with bits here and there for as long as I have her, but she seems like she’ll sew beautifully from here on. I love her so much!
I’m sure there will be more on this lovely gal next Vintage Sunday, as I continue to learn about her and try to find out what year she was made – and hopefully give her a name!
Apologies for the hideously lit photo, but this isn’t a blog post so much as a cry for help. Literally! Can you help me diagnose and / or fix my sewing machine?
I have a simple Janome (who I recently named Norman) and it doesn’t do much, but it’s always done it all just fine. I’ve had it for a few years and even though I’ve never really given it much care, it’s always been very well-behaved, putting up with a lot of crap from me.
When I made my Liberty pillowcases the other day, I noticed it making a louder sound, then just a few minutes after, starting sewing poorly. It feels like the feed dogs have these odd moments where they aren’t pushing forward properly, and it becomes very difficult to sew in a straight line and the stitch length becomes erratic. That night, I apologized to Norman for never ever cleaning him and did all the things you’re supposed to do. Dusting, wiping, oiling, etc.
That worked a treat, until a few nights later, when the same happened after a bit of sewing. Since I had never cleaned or oiled him, I thought that might not have been enough to get it all back in ship-shape, so I did a second round. I’ve kept all oiling to just one drop at a time, so I don’t think I’m now over-oiling.
Now I want to sew this lovely scottie dog you see here before you and, again, it was all going swimmingly. Then I heard the louder sound and witnessed the wonky sewing. This time I tried testing it out on some scrap fabric and it was totally fine. What the what?! I went back to my scottie, it was fine for another few seams, then weird again.
Sigh! I can’t imagine why Norman would be like this to me. I mean, I know I’m kind of a crappy owner, but I do love him, really. So I’m stuck for the moment and this post is both telling you about my crafting troubles and a shot in the dark to see if anyone out there is a sewing machine wiz-kid and has any tips for me. I should send Norman to the sewing machine doctor for some official maintenance, but I sure do wish I could finish my redecorating sewing first!