Crew · Vertical oscillating hook

Blue: a tale of the return

I should really know better. Don’t get rid of your trusted machine at the first sign of an apparently superior model.

Blue is a 1969 New Home 580 by Janome, the blue version (they also made them in beige in 1970s and even without that striped bit, as the fashion changed).

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This was one of the first Janome models made in Taiwan rather than Japan, and unfortunately it has a few plastic gears, which is why I sold it. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

The first Blue

I bought my first Blue from the daughter of the original owner some six or seven years ago. The machine was moving, but very stiffly. Apparently, it had been sitting in the cupboard for the last 40 years – it was bought, used to make some curtains, then put away and never touched again. As it turned out, the machine had some small but annoying problems that took me all of five minutes to fix. I think the previous owners were simply not interested in sewing.

In the years that followed, we got to know each other quite well. Blue was suffering from joint stiffness due to solidified old oil that was stubborn at times and even completely seized the machine on one occasion, mid-stitch! As it turned out, a thick clot of the stuff got finally detached from the joint wall and got between the moving surfaces of the joint, completely blocking it and seizing all movement in the machine. I treated everything to a good helping of 3-in-1 and let it sit for a few days (as used on other occasions). Once the mechanism was moving, I cleaned out every joint and came across the aforementioned clot being spit out. And there was the culprit! After cleaning, I oiled everything with a proper sewing machine oil again and continued sewing. 🙂

The capabilities

Blue is a side-facing vertical oscillator with cam embroidery and stretch stitch. Being side-facing means that it can’t sew with a double needle and it’s got a rather small harp space made even smaller by a thick column (see a separate post on harp space). Besides, its embroidery mechanism is based on zig-zag modulation rather than a continuos curve, so it cannot do line embroidery like machines with forward-facing hooks*, but only filled shapes.
*I have only come across forward-facing machines that were capable of line embroidery. So may be there are some side-facing ones that could do it, but I’ve never seen one.

Oh, and it’s high shank and doesn’t have extended lift. Enough reasons to declare it superceeded when I got some members of the Kenmore/Frister+Rossmann family made in Japan by Maruzen/Jaguar in early 1970s – excellent all-steel solid machines, forward-facing, with better harp space, variable stretch stitch, fancy curve embroidery and being able to chain stitch as well! Wow! Of course one of them (F&R 804) was super high shank, but I fixed it by converting to low shank.

Good-buy and hello

So I sold my Blue, with feet, cams and all, in perfect working order. At least I know it went to a good home because I met the lady, so no regrets there. Except of course that after a while I started missing it!​

But why? Is it because it could drop its feed dogs half way to make a low tension stitch? Not quite as good as a vibrating shuttle, but better than most. Or is it because the stretch stitch could be used with embroidery cams and produced many useful triple zig-zag stitches not available on the Jaguar family? Or may be because it could lock its straight stitch and ensure that it’s properly straight and not a micro-zig-zag?

Who knows why, but I was missing it. So when I saw its twin on eBay being sold for spares because the owner “couldn’t get the tension right”, it somehow found its way into my home. 😉

Firstly, she could not get the tension right because she messed with the tension assembly, took it out, lost some parts, couldn’t put it back together. Ah. Must have slipped her mind to mention that. But secondly, and I already had suspected it to be the case, the timing was off, which is why she was having troubles in the first place. Never mind, nothing I couldn’t fix.

Monkeys and sewing machines

That poor machine was assembled by a bunch of monkeys or else seriously messed with later. I think monkeys because all the parts are still spanking brand new, including the plastic gears (we’ll get to them in a minute). Everything is roughly in the right place, so the needle goes up and down when you turn the wheel, and stitches are formed every now and again… Sewing machines are precision instruments with tight tolerances on the scale of 1/10 of a millimeter, so getting things 0.5mm to 1mm wrong is really not going to work. And not tightening positioning screws doesn’t help either as things tend to slip even further.

Essentially I had to check every screw and every bit of the machine and put it right where necessary. But what a result! The second incarnation of Blue is better than the first, it’s smoother, quieter and it has a continuous drop feed function rather than a 3-step one (normal-silk-darning). Or rather, it’s still the same knob clicking into these fixed positions, but it actually functions in the intermediate ones too. I think I’ll need to have a good look at that knob later and turn it into a proper continuous drop feed – that’s what domestic overlockers call “differential feed”. It’s not, the dogs are not moved independently, but it has a similar effect. In retrospect, the first Blue was probably also put together by monkeys, but it got lucky.

About those monkeys, look at the serial number: 580000601. Notice anything peculiar? That’s 580 million 601. Janome, or Pine Sewing Machines, was founded in 1921, and with the war and everything in between, I cannot believe they’ll have produced 580 million machines in 48 years, that would be over 12 million per year, including during the war! Quite improbable. What is rather more probable is that the first three digits in the serial number stand for the model number – 580. This means my second Blue is only number 601 in its series, so the monkeys haven’t learned yet how to put it together properly. 🙂

The curse of plastic gears

I have been burned rather badly by plastic gears in the past, so I avoid them like the plague. And this machine has some, but I like it. What a dilemma!

Well, let’s see just where they are and what they do.​

This is a view of the machine from the top. The arrows indicate where the plastic gears are found. There are no plastic gears in the underbelly or anywhere else.​

Here are those gears in detail. The left one is a single two-tier plastic gear locked in with metal ones: a flat disk gear on the top and a long “screw” gear on the bottom. It transfers movement from the main shaft below to the flat disk gear at the top which has a pin in its centre for mounting cams. So if this plastic gear were to fail, cam rotation might not be perfectly even, so embroidery stitches would suffer. However, the gear would have to have a big chunk missing for that to happen, not just a single tooth – the neighbouring teeth would pick up the slack. Also, general wear and loss of tooth definition would not matter much as it would only cause a very minor aberration of the stitched pattern to the originally intended one. Phew! That’s not too bad. I’m probably OK with that gear for a bit. 🙂

The right one is in fact a set of three flat gear disks that transfer movement to a shaped barrel that makes the machine go back and forth for stretch stitch when you engage the stretch button. But again, as with the cam gear, these gears only transfer movement, they don’t actually drive anything, and the barrel, although also plastic, is a smooth piece without teeth, so small wear to its surface will have absolutely no noticable effect on the function. And anyway, if this unit were to fail, only stretch stitch would suffer, with the normal operation of the machine remaining intact. Phew! Got lucky on that one too, it seems.

I must add here that plastic gears that caused me so much trouble in the past, were driving gears in the main mechanism. For example, the New Home 632C by Janome is a forward-facing oscillator and a lovely machine until its plastic gears fail. One of the two gears in the hook assembly is plastic, meaning that when that gear starts wearing out and the teeth loose definition, the timing becomes inconsistent and the machine starts having all sorts of trouble.

The conclusion is then that some plastic gears may be permitted but not in the main mechanism and not driving. After all, I’ve been using my first Blue for some six years quite extensively, and never had any trouble from those gears.

Here to stay

My Blue is here to stay. It has a very different mechanism for doing that back-and-forth stretch stitch than the Jaguar family. I first thought that Jaguar’s was better because the amount of backward movement could be adjusted. But now I don’t think that either of them is better than the other, they are just different. One day I’ll write a post about that. 🙂

I have some plans for modifications brewing as well, requiring a side-facing vertical oscillator. I want it to sew with a double needle placed sideways, i.e., in the natural way for this machine. This will produce a three-thread stitch with double stitches on top and a looped back stitch on the bottom. If the top thread tension is kept low, this would make a pretty flexible stitch, and the two threads placed on top of each other would allow for interesting shading effects. And used with embroidery cams, this would make for perfectly shadowed patterns – ooh the possibilities! Now just to get it done. :-)​

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11 thoughts on “Blue: a tale of the return

    1. Don’t be fooled! 🙂 I only know those that I’ve had “in the flesh”, especially if something was wrong with them. 😉 I just enjoy tinkering with them and figuring out how they work by examining the mechanism. A shaft connects to a gear that drives a joint… You know, the old “the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the knee bone…” thing. 🙂

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  1. So glad you are still enjoying ‘tinkering’. I will know where to come when I need some advice. Even when we move to Wales it would be worth the journey to talk to someone I know, who knows how sewing machines work and give me some advice!! – No sign of a house sale just yet – so just chilling and going away for a few days before Easter!

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    1. Contrary to popular belief, Wales is not actually on another planet. 😉 Good to hear you are finally chilling after all that house repair business! I hope that involves some sewing! 🙂

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    1. That’s the beauty of the mechanicals: everything is before your eyes. 🙂 But I don’t actually tinker with the mechanism itself (yet). I’ve so far just changed the feet and the needle plates, so attachments only. 🙂 But you never know! One day I might actually get brave enough and… oooh!

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