Crew · Sewing machines

My evolving sewing crew – 3rd edition

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These machines are installed in my sewing room and are being used all the time. Each machine has its own unique set of functions which are needed in different situations, so although “all the time” does not mean 24/7, it still means that these machines are needed regularly and should be ready, willing and available all the time.

My sewing crew is evolving, I am on a quest of perfection. See the previous edition.

As usual, space is limited, so I need to find a combination of machines that would cover my needs with the smallest number of machines, as well as minimal diversity in types of bobbins, needles and foot fittings. In a word, it is a multi-variate optimisation problem. 🙂

My machines are all vintage, except one overlocker. See why that is.

Some of the machines have their own pages. Just click on the name to see them.

You will notice that many of my machines are placed in simple plastic cases instead of nice period wooden ones. This is because these cases have a surrounding edge so they can be lowered into a cut-out in a table, see photo below. This allows me to swap out flat bed machines quickly and easily – just unplug and lift out. I also fit them with the same type of motor so they could all use the same plug!

The main machines

1950s Haid & Neu Primatic, a.k.a. Harris Automatic

1950s Haid & Neu Primatic (a.k.a. Harris Automatic) – straight stitch, zig-zag, fancy stitches and chain stitch, forward-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet.

These are my main machines. They can disengage the zig-zag, so the straight stitch is really straight. They sew all sorts of fabrics beautifully, from fine to thick and heavy. They manage to sew with double needle without pulling together the stitches. I’ve added single thread chain stitch as well, so they can now sew stretchy seams for jersey.

I got Harris first, but it had no cams, so when I came across its green sister on German eBay, I had to have it too. This is how I ended up with two identical machines with just one cam set between them.

The free arm machine and a general helper

These two machines are similar in capabilities, but one is a proper free arm, and the other is a low rise flat bed, both aluminium-bodied, so not too heavy. This makes them true table top machines to help out with differently coloured threads or low shank attachments that can’t be used with my main machines. They even use the same cams… but different bobbins. Well, you can’t have everything all the time, I suppose. 😉

1960s Lada T132 (a.k.a. Sewmaster) – free arm straight stitch, zig-zag and fancy stitches, forward-facing vertical rotary hook, rotary bobbins, low shank feet.

This is my free arm machine, as well as a general helper. Like Primatic, it too can disengage the zig-zag, so it has true straight stitch and a large selection of fancy stitches with Singer flat Fashion Disks, as wel as its own – it is the same cam type.

There is an extension table that would make it into a flat bed machine, were it not for the very high rise from the table top – 10cm. This makes for uncomfortable sewing. But this is what makes it into a really useful free arm, so I just use it as such.

1963 Singer 328K – straight stitch, zig-zag and fancy stitches, forward-facing horizontal oscillating hook, class 66 bobbins, low shank feet.

Very similar to T132 in capabilities, minus drop feed. The needle bar can be locked for straight stitch, keeping it straight. Shares the cams with T132.

This machine can take two individual needles at once. This is not only cheaper than using a pre-manufactured twin needle, but also allows for a larger variety of needles, for example, double top stitch, double embroidery or one top stitch and the other a lurex thread needle to sew a bold pattern with a metallic shadow. 😮

The horizontal hook makes it a reasonably low rise machine – 7cm from the table top. It comes with an extension table to the left, but actually it’s not even needed at this height.

The secret weapon

The low tension straight stitch machines, vibrating shuttle, class 27 long bobbins, low shank feet. For difficult fabrics and jersey, lurex thread and free hand embroidery. Exceptionally quiet and delicate.

These machines can sew all sorts of fabric, including cobweb-fine silk, crêpe and satin, fluffy wool, loose knits, slippery PVC, denim and leather. Their stitches stretch with the jersey. They are my ultimate weapon against uncooperative materials.

1914 Singer 127K, full size VS2 machine. Fits into a standard plastic case to go into my sewing table cut-out. Or, without the case, it has feet to stand on and makes for a low rise table top model – only 5cm. Although the mechanism is partially exposed then, so oil (and gunk!) could get onto the fabric, so I prefer it sunk into the table.

1905 Stoewer VS3

1905 Stoewer VS3, a 3/4 size machine but with reverse. This is a very low rise machine – only 5cm from the table top. And the wooden case makes for a useful extension table, although it takes up quite a bit of space. The bed of the machine is too small for one of my standard plastic cases, but it does make a good table top model.

The straight stitch machine

1950s Lion Deluxe, side-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, low shank feet. Based on Singer 15, but smoother, quieter, with reverse and dropped feed dogs. Very versatile, works with all sorts of thread and fabric.

Perhaps I don’t really need yet another straight stitch machine, but this one is particularly nice, and it takes the same bobbins as my main machine. And also, it does not have any monetary value being of an unknown Japanese make, so selling it wouldn’t bring anything really, and I would lose a fantastic machine. Like with books, the price does not reflect the contents…

Chain stitch machines

Single thread chain stitch is the original knitted stitch, so it is perfect for sewing jersey and knits because it stretches exactly like the fabric. Many sewing machines have fancy stitches that are supposed to stretch with the jersey, but most of them are too wide for sewing seams, and not always suitable for sewing jersey. In addition, some sewing machines come with a chain stitch kit, and indeed I use this on my main machine. Yet, none of that works as well as a dedicated chain stitcher…

1950 Essex Mk1, motorised – single thread chain stitch machine. For light and medium fabrics, a flexible stitch for jersey and a pretty looped stitch for decoration. Small enough for sewing sleeves!

The overlockers

1970s New Home 743 Knitlock by Juki, 4-thread. It just works, a perfect finish every time, without any knob twiddling. It does 3- or 4-thread overlock, that’s it. I haven’t got the accessories for the rolled hem, and resetting tensions for the flat lock is too tedious, so I just stick to overlocking.

​2017 Singer Heavy Duty Ultralock 14HD854 by Juki, 4-thread. This is the modern machine in my collection. It is of the same basic design as New Home 743, but with differential feed and adjustable cutting width. It also has all the necessary accessories for doing rolled hems and 2-thread overlock. 🙂 A good updated version of a time-proven concept.

Specialised fancy stitch machines

Well, they were all meant as general purpose sewing machines with fancy stitches, but I find their harp space too small for most sewing tasks. However, they have some very interesting and useful fancy stitches, so rather than trying to find a machine that could do it all and have a large harp space without taking up half of the room, I decided to keep a few specialised machines that I particularly liked. They have different fancy stitch mechanisms with unusual possibilities. Unusual in modern machines, that is. :-)​

1969 New Home 580 by Janome, side-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet. It has an independent zig-zag mechanism where the width can be modulated with cams. Stretch stitch can be used with any pattern.

The needle bar can be mechanically locked for a proper straight stitch. The feed dogs can be lowered to any intermediate height, not just on-off. Intermediate settings reduce grip on the fabric producing a shorter stitch at a lower tension – a must for fine materials and jersey. If used with a walking foot that grips the fabric from above, this makes for differential feed so that the two layers of fabric are fed at different speeds. This also allows to regulate the amount of shirring or gathering when used with a gathering foot.

I found an unusual needle plate for this machine that allows for sewing with a side-facing double needle.


Double straight stitch already works, but for fancy stitches I need to find or adapt an appliqué foot that would press down well, yet leave a large enough area free. I tried an open toe foot, but because of the big hole in the needle plate, the material is not taught enough under the needle, so stitches are being skipped. This requires some more thought.

1960s New Home 551 by Janome, side-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet. Exactly the same fittings as on 580 – it’s the same mould with different functions.

Like the 580, the 551 has an independent zig-zag mechanism, but here the cams affect the needle position, so that zig-zag can be added, creating new patterns. Stretch stitch can be used with any pattern as well. The cams are built-in here.

True straight stitch is achieved by disabling both the cam stack and the zig-zag: re-activating both requires some force, so it does not happen by itself during sewing.

This machine also takes the special needle plate for sewing with a side-facing double needle, just like the 580. Once I find the right foot for fancy stitches, I’ll have so many more exciting possibilities!

1986 New Home Memory Craft 6000 by Janome, forward-facing horizontal rotary hook, class 15, class 66 or rotary bobbins, low shank feet. This is a computerised machine with two alphabets, three types of buttonholes and many lovely stitches. It has manual controls too, making it even more interesting. Oh, and there is a free arm, although it is not really free enough for serious use.

Back-benchers

These machines still have some problems, so cannot be considered 24/7 ready and willing. However, I am keeping them, so solutions will be found some day.

1963 Singer 98K, side-facing horizontal oscillating hook, class 66 bobbins, low shank feet. Does a good stitch on various fabrics, but is a bit temperamental. Compact and self-contained. Great as an extra little machine for projects that use different thread colours, feet or complicated attachments.

Something is not quite right with the hook race – the tension appears uneven. May be it’s the bobbin itself, may be there is a rough edge in the cradle – not sure at this point and need to investigate.

It cannot sew with thick thread like top stitch thread because the hole in the needle plate is too small for that, and the needle is not perfectly centred. Singer 98K is a bit of a rarity, and needle plates are not readily available. Still, a solution could be found – I simply need another needle plate with a bigger hole.

1901 Jones Spool – straight stitch, side-facing vertical rotary hook, proprietary bobbins, Jones needles, low shank feet. Does an excellent stitch on a variety of fabrics and with all sorts of thread thanks to its elaborate tension system. However, proprietary bobbins are a bit of a challenge – I just have a single one!

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7 thoughts on “My evolving sewing crew – 3rd edition

  1. This is fascinating Elena! I have my husbands Grandmothers treadle machine in my hallway, I did try it once but didn’t perservere long enough to get the rhythm for the treadle. Will definately have another go one day.

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    1. Thank you! 🙂 I believe in having the right tools for the job. And as I sew different things, I use different machines because there isn’t a single one that could do it all. I know because I’ve been searching for one for some twenty years now. I’ve given up, and I now go for multiple more specialised machines. Or at least that’s the excuse I make. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your set up. I too keep several machines up and ready. Some I have set up in just different colors of thread to hop on when sewing projects. Although my machines are not as unique as yours I feel that I have ‘saved’ them from the landfill and I love them. I love reading your posts and sewing your lovely machines.

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    1. Thank you! 🙂 I don’t think my machines are particularly unique, they are fairly common here in the UK – they are all “rescue” ones from eBay. 🙂

      I too typically use several machines for a single project, sometimes with different colour thread, sometimes with fancy attachments – it’s much easier to hop to another machine than to change the setup!

      Liked by 1 person

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