Comparisons and overviews

Why I don’t keep post-1975 machines

Short answer: I cannot afford new machines of quality that I require, and I cannot afford to waste money on machines within my budget.

The quality requirement

This is first of all solid mechanical construction with all hardened steel parts. Cast alluminium may also be used on parts that are not load bearing, such as the body casing or some parts of the feed mechanism. It is not acceptable to have plastic gears or tin shafts, they just don’t last. It is even less acceptable to have parts of the hook race mechanism made of plastic and painted in silver colour, as I’ve seen a few times. Surely, if you found it necessary to paint your plastic silver, it means you didn’t think people would accept a plastic part there? Pathetic.

I am not actually opposed to plastic as such. I wouldn’t object at all to a plastic body for a sewing machine, but it appears that if there’s plastic on the outside, there is also plastic on the inside.

Another thing I am weary about, is belts. Some machines use timing belts instead of shafts. Belts are fine as long as they hold, and they are usually a lot more robust than plastic gears, but they too eventually break leaving the owner with a nightmare of finding a replacement.

I must add here that some machines use very common easy to find general purpose motor belts inside as well as on the motor. Such belts present no problems, so I don’t mind those.

The functionality requirement

I have no particular requirements for straight stitch machines, overlockers or other specialised machines as they are all different and, well, specialised. 🙂

Zig-zag machines however are “general purpose” or “jack of all trades” (almost), so I have a set of minimal requirements for them. If they lack some of the features, they are usually not useful to me, unless they have some special redeeming qualities.

The minimum requirement for zig-zag machines is to pass the buttonhole test: to be able to make a buttonhole with my three-step method. This method requires a zig-zag capable machine that can drop its feed dogs, set the needle left, right or centre and sew in reverse reliably without jamming, all in zig-zag. Not too much to ask, is it? 🙂

The Singer story of 2001

It was Christmas 2001 and I decided to upgrade my basic Anker to something that could handle chiffon and fine silk without tissue paper. I also wanted “fancy” stitches like blind hem (had enough of doing it by hand). Singer had just brought out a new electronic model, and the local shop was doing a special offer on it, so if I gave up my Anker as part exchange, and paid in three installments, I could just about afford the new machine.

It was sewing so lovely and smooth! It even managed to go over seams with only small stalling, as long as those seams were not too thick. It could sew chiffon and silk, but also coat weight wool, and seemed absolutely perfect.

Two coats and three dresses later, it started stalling and skipping stitches, so I took it back to the shop for a service. “But you completely wore it out!”, was the verdict. “What did you do?” – “I made two coats and three dresses.” – “Yes, that would do it. It’s not meant for real sewing, it’s just for regular household use. You ground down the plastic gears.”

What?! Not meant for sewing?! Apparently, “regular household use” meant sitting in a cupboard doing nothing.

Can I have my Anker back, please? No, that one was long gone, they did not keep such “obsolete” machines without electronic controls or fancy stitches. Oh well, can my Singer be repaired then? It’s still on warranty since it’s been only three months after purchase. “Sorry, warranty does not cover normal wear and tear. And anyhow, those gears cannot be replaced, they are one way clip-on. Replace the whole machine or live with it.”

And I was charged a full service fee as well, because they oiled it, i.e., “performed maintenance”.

This was the point when I decided to learn how sewing machines worked so I could do my own maintenance beyond oiling. I managed to tune my Singer a bit so it would not stall, but skipped stitches were due to worn out gears, so I learned to live with that, meaning I went back to a lot of hand sewing.

The story of a vintage New Home 632C

Some ten years later I was doing a lot of heavy duty sewing with synthetic leather and thick upholstery, and my very expensive computerised Pfaff was feeling the strain. That was a good machine costing ten times as much as the unfortunate Singer, but it too had a few – only few! – plastic gears which were not meant for heavy duty sewing.

Not wishing to ruin my Pfaff, I looked around for an alternative and discovered that vintage machines were to be had on eBay, cheaply and in great numbers. Some 30 machines later (bought, studied, fixed, resold), I zeroed in on a particular model: a New Home 632C by Janome (note the ‘C’). It’s a flat bed forward-facing vertical oscillator machine with built-in useful utility stitches and stretch stitch, plus it also takes double needles. It’s well built, sturdy and reliable, with an aluminium body, so not too heavy – a good choice! But it has a few plastic gears.

The New Home 632C works very well until the plastic gears wear out, then it just fails. Skipped stitches, chewed up fabric, stalling, jamming – no end of trouble. I went through five of them in half a year of sewing, and some appeared to have had very little use before me, so were almost new!

This was my last spell with plastic gears. It’s just not worth the trouble. And I can fix my machines myself, imagine how much it would cost you in service fees! For me, it is simply unaffordable.

Are there modern all-metal machines?

Yes, there are. I asked Brother last year, and they pointed me at a straight stitch only basic flat bed model for just £6,995. I asked Juki, and they had a very similar model for £1,995, but it did have nylon belts in it. I didn’t bother asking Bernina.

The world hasn’t changed. Back in the day when sewing machines were built to last, you had to take out a loan to afford one. Today you still need to take out a loan for a machine of comparable quality.

I have a 100 year old Singer 66K that cost me £18, motor, pedal and all. I did have to clean and oil it, but now it runs like a dream.

The magic of 1975

My absolute cut-off date for sewing machines is 1975 because machines made after that are practically guaranteed to have plastic gears in them. It’s not about the date, it’s about the gears.

Plastic gears and internal belts appeared around 1960 and started to proliferate across manufacturers. So I am fairly confident buying machines from 1950s or earlier as they will almost certainly be all steel. I am suspicious of machines built between 1960 and 1975, you find both all steel and plastic machines in this period. After that, it’s avoid unless proven not to be plastic.

46 thoughts on “Why I don’t keep post-1975 machines

  1. I’ve got two machines made i the period ’75-’80 and both (Bernina 807 and Viking 6570) have plastic gears prone to failure. The gears involved are still available though and because they’re otherwise great machines, it’s worth the cost of replacing the parts if and when they fail. I think the issue with machines of that era are that engineers were still learning how to use plastic for mechanical parts. Technology has moved on so modern machines are capable of being designed for durability with plastic parts – and I’m sure high end machines are. Low end modern machines and heavy duty materials isn’t such a good combination though….

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    1. Yes, of course there will be exceptions. However, Brother, Juki and Janome all told me that their “Professional” range machines have exclusively steel gears everywhere, and also no belts. Those are the machines meant for heavy use, not always on heavy materials but for many hours a day, every day. Like if you sew for a living. These machines also offer a decent harp space and are usually limited in functions (e.g., straight stitch only), they can also be delivered with a table because, let’s face it, it’s important. You don’t find these in regular shops because they are not of interest for “domestic use”. These machines are also very expensive (in the thousands). However, they are not industrial machines, they don’t come with a huge motor and don’t do 15,000 stitches a minute, as this is not needed for a tailor. It’s the same concept as it was a hundred years ago, really: industrial, professional and family use. The professional range disappeared in 1950s, but some of the better domestic machines of the time could fit the bill, but we have to be careful. On eBay you often see them advertised as “semi-industrial”, although in most cases it’s an exaggeration. 😉
      Actually, I have two machines with plastic gears: 1969 New Home 580 and 1986 Memory Craft 6000, both by Janome. The plastic gears drive fancy stitches on 580, and on the Memory Craft they are not the same plastic but resin and Teflon, so much more robust, and yes, it works smoother for fancy back-and-forth movement. But I would not use my Memory Craft for regular sewing.

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      1. It’s the first time I heard of another category of sewing machines beside the domestic and 8ndustrial. Could you name a few of those vintage pre 1950’s professional sewing machines? I’d love to learn more about those.

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      2. Those were machines meant for tailors’ shops: working all day every day but doing all kinds of different operations with the same machine and sewing different fabrics. For example: Singer 13 Medium (like 12 but larger and more resilient), Singer 15 tailor’s edition (it was made a little more robust), Singer 66 (yes, first meant for tailors then marketed for everyone), White Rotary Tailors Edition (there was a “family use” as well – smaller), Wheeler & Wilson No. 8 and No. 9 Tailors Edition (the largest), Jones CS Medium, Jones Spool (copy of W&W No. 9). There are many more, but these ones I know for sure. Basically look for large versions of domestic machines and you’ll find them more robust as well. It’s exactly the same with modern “Professional” ranges.

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  2. I’m so glad I accidentally found you! I have a 1986 Refrey model (I live in Spain) and it fits all the reasons why 1975 is the magic number. I don’t normally name inanimate objects, but I have lovingly named mine “El Tanque” because it’s olive green (like a military tank) and it weighs a ton because it’s made completely of steel. It’s an interesting model because you can oil its parts very easily because it has strategically placed holes all around it so all you have to do is squeeze the oil into the little holes on the exterior and then open the “front end” and oil the mechanism that raises and lowers the needle. It’s so vintage you can reconvert it to a pedaller (no electric motor). I got it for free and it luckily came with an instruction manual. I’ll never need another sewing machine ever. It’s a tank, after all! I think it’s great because it doubles as a weapon. Imagine burgling my house when I happen to be home. I can just bop you on the head with my heavy sewing machine, only very lightly so you don’t die, call the cops, and presto. After, I can sew with it!

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    1. Hello Tony!
      If your machine has oiling holes, it sounds like an old-style machine (made to last). All old style machines have oiling holes – have a look at my post “No oiling required – myth or fiction?” under Maintenance -> Cleaning, Oiling and Restoring from the menu (here’s a link to that, if it works). And I have a little tank too, but mine is grey. 🙂 It’s under Sewing machines -> Crew from the menu.

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      1. Thanks for the suggested posts! It was definitely made to endure everything, probably even a tornado or a hurricane! No doubt it’s the last of the models with oiling holes. I’m pretty sure in 1986 it was difficult for the company to market this model because by then Singer was making plastic ones. I love mine and don’t want to use anything else. It’s accurate and a dream to sew with.

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      2. No, it’s a Refrey, a Spanish sewing machine company which is no longer in business, probably because it couldn’t compete with Singer because they kept making them out of metal.

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    2. Hi! I live in the south of France and was just looking at buying a refrey transforma 427 secondhand. I’m just curious if that’s what you’ve got, you’re description sounds very similar. I love vintage machines, I don’t find the new machines are built to last! I’m a sewing teacher and I always advice my students to buy second hand.I just haven’t come across this brand and I can’t find much about them. It’s not traveled far though because I’m only just over the boarded into France.
      Thanks Elena for your post, I’ve learnt some new things!
      Ruth

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  3. I have a Singer 324K from around 1961. I’m not sure what its made of inside, but it’s an aluminum body, lightweight but it sews like butter. It was given to me from a relative who bought it between 1961-65, started a seam, jammed it up and then put it in a close until around 5 or 6 years ago when she gave it to me. I put $50 into it to get it unjammed, retimed, cleaned and a new plug put on. Some people think I spent too much; that man made it run like a top. I don’t know about the gears but it does not “tick” – like my Baby Lock that I bought 20 years ago. I have several old time machines including a Singer treadle that are wonderful. I have to stop picking them up!!!!!!!! It’s an addiction, I think… Love you blog. Great post!

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  4. Hi Elena, I am amazed at your blogging as you are obviously sharp as a tack and with lots of talent and drive !! 🙂 I really enjoyed and learned from your blog about the best types of zig zag mechanisms, your blog about the transverse shuttle machine mod (I have a Singer no 12 and it is one of my most disliked machines ) but now have purchased a Japanese transverse shuttle zig zag machine and excitedly waiting for it to arrive. Many badged versions of this machine that takes a Singer 127 shuttle. It takes two needles, one for straight and one for zig zag, and with some careful adjustments can sew a double needle within limits. I have experimented with a triple straight stretch stitch on my Kenmore 158.1914 using a twin needle. It is crazy strong stitch, crazy stretchy, bottom thread just doesn’t pull out but it is bulkier and likely not good for silk 🙂 I agree with your cut off date of 1975 with the exception of some of the Kenmore machines which were the last hold out of 158 machines. Same factory made the Cub 7 machine at least until 1979 as I have one from that year and same machine basically as the 158.1060. But…mostly 1975. There is a Janome out now that is advertised as a tailor/semi-industrial. I’d never buy it even though it claims metal gears and plastic case. I’d buy a used industrial long before that. The tempting thing about the new machines of course is the fancy presser feet they offer but the pitfalls are well documented by you in this thread. Best regards, Mike K.

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  5. Hi Elena, it seems there were exceptions to the post-1975 plastic rule – I’ve acquired a machine made in 1992-1997, the Bernette 740e, and despite being both Taiwan-made and Taiwan-designed and sold under many brands, it’s all metal inside. Even all the cam stacks are metal! It’s a forward facing vertical oscillator design. There is one plastic part in the drive train though, the handwheel, which transfers power from the motor belt to the top shaft…and is broken on my machine. But the pieces were in the case and I suppose it will be easy to glue together and reinforce with metal.

    As a sort of an insider joke, all two remaining plastic parts inside broke too, for no apparent reason: the cover of the rpm sensor on the motor, and the cover of a brush-replacement hole in the motor 🙂

    Apparently, previous owners made use of the machine’s durability, as the feed dogs were worn smooth, on one side even totally 🙂 Could you please tell me whether worn feed dogs are a common sight on well-used vintage machines, or does it mean they were sewing extra abrasive fabrics on it?

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    1. Hello Jana,
      Not all metal is the same either. The feed dogs should be made of hard tempered steel to make sure they remain sharp whatever you sew on them. None of the pre-1960s machines that I know of ever have their feed dogs worn down, regardless of how much they’ve been used. However, I have heard just recently from an acquaintance about worn out feed dogs on a Brother overlocker from 1990s, even though it was only used for light materials. These feed dogs were made of low quality metal that is soft and also often brittle. I have also seen some machines from late 1980s where metal shafts were snapped for the same reason – poor quality metal. It can be even less durable than some of the modern resin-based plastics.

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    2. We have a few Chinese made patchers here. Very very affordable machines. Metal is incredibly soft to the point when I got one I had to wear it down some to fit on the presser lifter cam mechanism. I just cycled it a few hundred times to get the wear down to the right spot where it functioned. There is quality still so some is good and some not from China. I read that the Juki 411 clone hook assembly on the hand operated Cowboy brand sewing machine (an improved version of the Tippman Boss sold by Tandy corporation now with expired patents) has a nitride coated hook assembly. That is real quality there. I ordered a new hook assembly for my circa 1913 Singer 45k1 industrial and could not be happier. We have five new old stock Singer 1842u–92 5 thread industrial sergers made in Taiwan. These are super high quality from the 1990’s but were dead stock and made specifically for jeans factories. I’m working on old Kenmore machines 158 series. We have quite a few. On the 158’s it’s a toss up….some will have a nylon gear on one side of the cam drive and others will have nylon for zig zag gear while about 2/3’s of models are all metal. These are all pre-1977 machines. Unfortunately about a year ago the nylon gears mostly became obsolete no longer being made in China. I see one zig zag cam gear and that is about it on the internet. Best regards, Mike

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      1. Hi Elena, I really enjoyed your post(s). This response is to discuss the diminishing price difference between high end domestics and many industrials…..Some of the industrials nowadays are in similar price ranges of “high end” domestics that likely will never compare to vintage all metal machines from pre-1977. The high end domestics are usually able to do specialty stitches making them unique. Examples are the “high speed” Juki 55xx series and their many clones and the 206rb compound feed machines….all at the just over 1k and sometimes lower on the high speed. The heavy hitters are also cloned for leather work nowadays with exceptional quality. and at a fraction of former prices Industrials that can do the specialty stitches are a much rarer breed however and one needs to study up in that area to find out more. The old Bernina 217 industrial with the satin stitches is now being made as the Global zz-217 but anything with reverse/stretch stitches is not to be found in industrials from what I can find….time is money and reverse stitches (stretch) are slow and finicky……so I would either use a vintage all metal Kenmore or a CNC setup (which likely would be really nice and allot less operator skill/intervention) I’ve seen Juki 5 speed industrials at 1k USD which is a fraction of the way more expensive top of the line BabyLock with the air threading of loopers and needles…..they are so expensive it is like buying a car as the dealers are not allowed to publish the prices but instead pounce on you when you walk onto the showroom floor. For the price of a high end domestic (or semi industrial) Babylock I could buy all the industrials that can be set up individually for each and every function….but might have to go used on the cover stitch or dead stock new. There are industrials that do the moccasin stitches and it’s cool….the needle bar rotates 180 degrees giving some really cool decorative stitching possibilities. However, what I’ve seen most recently is that there are factories in China now making a CNC driven version of the Brother industrial machine that do amazing stuff with a 135×17 needle. This is the next step for China to completely dominate the automated section of the sewing industry. Siruba has reportedly already taken over manufacturing of overlock machines for Juki. Most of Juki are now made in China (and reliable sources say all but they won’t admit it). Juki claims they have strict control over the factories in China…. Anyways, what I see is some amazing advancements in automated sewing coming up at a much more affordable price range because all the cloning of existing machines. I have priced this large bed cnc brother industrial head clone machine for 2700 dollars (before shipping and tax) with it’s heavy 135×17 needle. The possibilities are huge. One can set up the material and press the “go button” and get an amazing product even if one wants to program decorative or stretch into the cycle. Best regards

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      2. Hi Mike,
        It is interesting to read about these special machines. Of course there are modern machines of good quality, I am not arguing with that. But for me they are completely beyond reach because of their cost. A lot of new domestic machines cost over £500, going into thousands even – and I typically pay £5 for my vintage machines, plus £10 postage plus of course days and weeks of TLC to get them to run. But then, once revived, there’s no stopping them. My most expensive machine is a modern overlocker which I bought for £260, and I felt the pinch for several months. So although these new developments are interesting, there is really no difference for me whether the cost is $20,000 or just $2,000 – it’s still way and way out of my league. Hence my focus on old machines.

        Another point is automation. As exciting is it sounds to build a sewing automaton so that you just press a button and it does everything, this is again not something I’m interested in. I work in computing, so computing is banned from my sewing room. The only creativity with a sewing automaton lies with the engineer who designed and programmed it. The user is left with nothing to do but to press a button – how boring! Where is the art in that? Where is the skill? Any monkey could do it. No, I am only interested in machines that provide me the tools for doing things, no more. My embroidery machines only do fancy stitches, the usual repetitive stuff, they don’t embroider complete designs with differently coloured threads. I do that. This is my job. I guide the fabric, I change the thread, etc. – I am the creator, not my machine.

        So although all of these areas you touched upon are really interesting in themselves, and although they have lots of important applications, you won’t see any of that in my posts. I am a sole creator who uses manual tools because the human brain is still more flexible and more artistic than any automaton (created by another human brain). 🙂

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      3. Hi Elena, I am in the process of taking several vintage Kenmore domestic machines to use for the triple stretch stitch for heavy work as the strength and stretch is amazing using commonly available ticket 30 and 50 thread. I also found the twin needle in a Kenmore triple stretch stitch is super strong and stretchy while not allowing thread on bottom to come loose (at a cost of added bulk in the stitch and time/care to make it). Way more stretchy than a cover stitch that is for sure and a double thread chain stitch doesn’t compare also in stretch. Only problem is stabilizing the material but for denim and canvas that’s a non issue. What I’ve found is the universal motors are usually underpowered for use here. The lowest wattage servo motor blds type is 400 watts for sewing machines and requires a dedicated table to mount it in. I can (and have bought one for testing) a so called 250w 220v universal motor that likely is at 50 percent efficiency with it’s (I hope) electronic foot controller. That is a 50 dollar motor. My goal is to use the machines for triple stretch on shorter seams not long ones. I will try to take a surplus kenmore pulley reducer for use on two of these machines that have single belt external motors. I have a friend/contact who does exactly what you do to vintage domestics but instead to vintage industrials 🙂 I’ve bought vintage industrials for a song compared to new but typically a “song” is in the couple hundred dollar price range. Vintage overlock industrials can be had on ebay really cheap such as the Union Special 39500 series and the Merrow machines. I see the Union Specials for 150 on eBay regularly. So if I can buy a vintage industrial overlocker (used) and a high speed industrial (used) all for a couple hundred (or less) each then for me it becomes a very viable option. I’m mostly into sewing canvas and denim and have found with thick seams the domestics many times cannot handle the load well but some can “ok”. The class 15 and Japan improved class 15 can do a pretty good job for most situations sewing canvas and denim but still struggle on felled seams with heavy (what used to be considered medium) denim/canvas. For example I have a 16-188, 16-88 walking foot and a Juki 5410-n needle feed and all of those machines sew allot of what we work with many times better than a domestic. As much as I love my 100 plus year old White FR on a treadle it just was the wrong machine when I was sewing vinyl on my Jeep top for example but the circa 1913 16-88 did the job like it was coasting down hill in neutral comparatively. I hope to get our Kenmore machines in a light production environment but for my taste all the lighter duty domestic machines just sit around collecting dust. I mistakenly bought 4 Elna Supermatic and a Grasshopper when first getting machines now they just sit around like red headed step children not getting the love/TLC they deserve because of functionality for our uses here. Again, I’m a real fan of your blogs and the incredible insight, research, and detail you take the time to pass on for others to learn from. The trade off with the automation side of things is the creativity goes to the computer and software programs not so much the machines as you pointed out.
        And, in 30 years the electronics will be ready for the dumpster unless there becomes a common architecture to upgrade boards but keep the cloned industrial heads. We are working on a CNC didode laser table here and hope to have it on line sooner as I would rather spend my focus on assembling rather than cutting. Catching mistakes in pattern cutting can become very difficult compared to catching mistakes in sewing. Best regards, Mike

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      4. Sounds like a serious endeavour! I see we sew different things, you and I, and hence we use different machines. I don’t usually use heavy materials like you do, my problem is rather to sew fine materials and thin jersey and not to have it ripped up by the machine in the process. 🙂 So I found that the triple stitch is too dense for, say, T-shirt material, it stretches it out and even makes holes in it. But for heavy duty applications it would be just right, I imagine! I would only add one thing from my experience with Jaguar machines (Kenmore 158) – they did not strike me as heavy duty. They are all metal or nearly, but this isn’t enough. You’ve got industrial machines – see how much sturdier they are. Every part is beefier, the joints, gears and connections are stronger, and everything fits together much tighter with a lot less “play”. I found Jaguars to rather be designed for making light to medium clothes, so no jeans and no coats. There is a lot of play between the parts, which actually helps the machine to “adapt” to different lighter fabrics and to produce very good results for your home sewing. But in particular on the stop-and-go triple stitch I fear the vibrations inside the machine will be too great if you try using it with a powerful motor. The manual actually does not recommend going fast on that stitch, even with the standard motor. The machine does up to 900spm on plain straight stitch (although I would not dare to go above 700spm), but there’s no way it would do it on the triple stitch. I think if you push it too hard, parts will be bending and snapping. But then again, if you have several of those Kenmores lined up, you could always stress test one and see what happens!

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      5. Hi Elena, Yes….some of the Kennies only have 1 belt as you know and some of those are only 1.0 amp. We have lots of industrials here (many many dozens of them for a production line(s)). I have found the pulley reduction system in the Kenmore machines what truly makes the difference most especially when they are coupled with 1.2 amp motors. One of our best “jeans” machines is a Juki 5410n single needle/needle feed and underfeed with a 750w servo brushless servo motor on it. That machine handles denim seams in a breeze. We also have 550w brushed dc servos (servo is a loose term that actually is just a class of motors that have a feedback loop in them so can mean many things). And we have lesser power servos. With the 1.0 amp external motor single belt Kenmore machines one must actually get the speed up to get momentum going and that’s not good. Today I received a motor from China. It is slightly longer and slightly larger but the shape is same as a classic sewing motor. Advertised to have 100 percent copper (and more of it) and higher quality construction. This motor has a nameplate stating 220/240vac 50/60hz 1.2 amp. So using ohm’s law that would be equivalent to 2.4 amp at 110v. It also states 250 watts on it. 250 watts is about the max I’d want to put on a domestic machine but the Kenmore machines may be able to handle more and I can get low cost 400w servos out of Manila that I’ve actually considered but that may be too much just not sure. Anyways I have a couple pulled parts that are the pulley reduction units. The plan is to try this 250 watt motor with a diy pulley reduction using pulled kenmore parts. This will give me better torque which is what is needed with this stitch. All the machines on this stitch each have a little bit different personality. It boils down to the needle returning in the exact hole or not, slop in the machine if there is any, and how symetrical the feed dogs are feeding things. Some machines make an absolutely beautiful triple stretch stitch which can really be seen with two colors of thread into one needle eye, external tensioning for each thread (which we have set up on one machine) and the right combination of thread sizes. We had a sewer here on Sunday so I demonstrated on the 158.1914 the triple straight stretch stitch on two pieces of denim. I used tex 24/ ticket 120 and a size 11 needle so it would not be strong on max stitch length. This guy was really thin. He could easily rip the stitch apart. Then I put it on triple stretch and he could not budge it…..it has it’s place but again I’m thinking on short seams. I remember a forum where a new owner of a Singer 101 described the old owner as original seamstress who was in an old folks home at 98 years old having used the machine here entire life since buying it. In the right circumstances one can get allot of miles off one of these machines. I have messed around with trying light/stretch materials on domestics. A domestic serger really can’t be beat in this area for home use (we have 1 domestic and several dozen industrials). But in stretch wear the industrials cannot be beat. We have feed off the arm flat locks now (2 of them/Yamato 62d series) and soon will have a Pegasus w600 3 needle/5 thread with side cutter and puller. I’ve found on canvas and denim a skilled tailor can do just about anything but in this world of light and stretch material it can get pretty rough unless there is overlock and industrials. You appear to be a rare exception making these machine work for you in these applications…..are you also using stabilizers or have you mostly figured out how to not need them? With the industrials the stabilizers aren’t needed with the specialized machines mostly. Lastly we have many Merrow break apart seam machines that I’ve diy/hacked into activeseam machines. Talk about fast, stretchy and strong (in the 3 thread version). But again there are it seems limitations with material types for these Merrows. Best regards, Mike

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      6. Hi Mike,
        Thin and stretch is far more difficult to sew than dense or thick, as you note. This is why I use very old machines for my finery – machines made before 1910 in the time when fine and delicate materials were common. I do not stabilise anything – this is counter-productive for delicate stitching! I use Singer 48 for the finest and stretchiest of fabrics, and I use well selected Medium VS machines for T-shirt weight jersey or for fine synthetics or silks. I have not yet tried Adler 87 on them (only tried it on jersey) but I think it might work too. I have three domestic Juki 4-thread overlockers – they handle different weights of fabrics, and that’s all I need. I don’t use coverstitch because I find overlock and blind stitch to work much better and much easier to do. I have no use for high speed either except when making curtains which happens once every 20 years so is not a priority! 😀 For embroidery on fine or stretchy fabrics I use Vigorelli Fantasy – have you seen those feed dogs? Gigantic. This machine handles the finest and flimsiest of fabrics without any stabiliser. But it is not a machine that you can just go out and buy. I’m sure there are specialised industrial machines for all of these operations, but the cost is prohibitive to me, and I do not need the speed or that extreme durability – I sew a lot but not every day because I have a day job. Also, industrial machines are typically larger, have huge motors that pull a lot of power, and I don’t have the room for them and don’t want to pay that much for electricity. And finally, I don’t use domestic machines for main sewing (except some embroidery), I use professional machines. This is a class between domestic and industrial, and I’m sure you know this class exists also today. These machines have the versatility of a domestic with much higher precision in manufacturing, far greater durability and reliability. Your Kenmores are domestic, my Singer, Pfaff, Adler and others are all professional. I would not dare to put anything more than a 50W motor on a Kenmore 158, so I’d be interested to know how long it will live with a 250W motor, even if you just use it for torque. Also I think that wattage on motors can be written in two ways: wattage that the motor provides and wattage that the machine utilises, that is, considering the efficiency of the motor. The old motors used to have the useful wattage written on them (50W) while the later ones have the output wattage which is much higher. At 40% efficiency that’s 110W or so. Most modern domestic motors are rated 90W, so that’s a lot less, and I don’t believe they are any more efficient as they are essentially the same, with smaller copper coils than the old motors. My Lada T132 sewing machine has both wattages marked on the label along with the efficiency rating, so that’s how I know. 🙂

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      7. Hi Elena, I had seen some of those machines but had never heard of the White badged fantasy and immediately found a blog after reading your mention of the brand/model. That machine in the blog was complete with an added Alice in Wonderland scheme. Yes, we have a couple Juki lz-391 here and those also have massive feed dogs but are zig zag, straight, and free hand embroidery (with knee control of width or in non-embroidery the lifter). It looks like the fantasy feed dogs are just as big…you can look on ebay for the feed dog on the lz-391 to see it is comparible but also on an industrial and the presser foot I think is smaller than your Fantasy machine so now I have another machine to avoid buying and eventually succumb to. I just got a quote from Juki America on the adaptor for dual dbx1 needles and it was just shy of 100 dollars but I’ll buy one for one of our LZ’s (which amazingly are still made and crazy expensive….I got both of ours with table and motor for hundreds each). I already knew about the efficiency of the universal motors but this particular motor just received is paying allot more (it is a 50 dollar motor direct from China). I’m suspecting this motor I bought may be the motor used in the Sailrite machines but have not yet been able to prove it as Sailrite puts their own part number on the machine. The Sailrite is a class 15 semi-portable walking foot. I would have no problems using the Kenmore machines to sew seams on canvas or denim. Typically I use a size 19, 20, 21 needle and never had any issues. Your comments on keeping the speed down are wise ones and the reason I want more torque/control at low speeds of course one needs some constant movement to overcome the coefficient of friction and to have just a little momentum. For super heavy stuff (I’ve used up to size 415 braided with size 27 needles) we have heavy hitters here such as a circa 1913 45k1, heavy patchers that take dd214 and 7×3 needles respectively, Juki 411 clone called a Cowboy cb4500 (that reportedly will go through 7/8 inch saddle leather, Singer 112w130 and 112w140 double and single needle walking feet industrials and others such as industrial Juki double needle feed. None of these however will do the triple stretch stitch which to me is like a diy extra long bartack (we have a Juki lz1900 bartack as well). I would call it a couture diy heavy duty stitch that nobody is going to easily clone in a factory. Sailrite also advertises their efficiency and states 50 percent on their motor. I really appreciate all your wisdom on the transverse shuttle machines and their ability to sew fine fabrics. We also have a domestic cover stitch machine (Janome 2000cpx coverpro) and that machine is not all that great that’s for certain. Our much older Union Special cover stitch machines are way better but I’m partial to Union Special when it comes to machines that take loopers for double chain stitch and even their 39500 overlocks. Before reading your blogs I was a bit of a hater of transverse shuttles owning a Singer 12 that I just tried a few times and put away not liking it. And was wondering what all the hubub was on the Singer 48k until reading your blogs so appreciate all the elmering (tutoring). I do have a zig zag Japan transverse shuttle machine in the long cue of machines to come here that takes the Singer long shuttle. I was told some models took cams but mine is not one of them. Best regards, Mike

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      8. Hi Mike,
        Two points to note. Vigorelli Fantasy has such massive feed dogs because the middle section moves left and right under the foot, so not all of the dog surface is used at the same time. But the machine comes also with some exceptionally wide feet which helps to avoid getting the fabric pushed into the equally massive needle hole.

        Second, I don’t like Singer 12 either. The shuttle doesn’t do it for me – it cannot deliver low tension. Singer 48 stands out because it has a bullet shuttle like on VS machines – a far better shuttle without sharp corners in thread path.

        Vibrating shuttle mechanism itself is also radically different from transverse shuttle or reciprocal shuttle. I find that VS works a lot better, both long arm and short arm. I wrote a post about the two types of VS – see under Mechanism. So in theory the best machine for very fine jersey would be an old style New Home VS which combines vibrating shuttle mechanism with old style spring-driven feed. But these machines are so rare here that I haven’t got one, I only know of it from research.

        I’ve used Janome Coverpro – I was so very underwhelmed! Both by the machine and by the method of hemming they are suggesting: fold the hem, stitch it face up, turn it over and carefully cut off excess hem allowance along the coverlock stitch. Now that’s just stupid! It is too easy to cut through the skirt itself and I cannot see it being done this way in any professional environment where time is valuable.

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      9. Hi Elena, I have located a 48k and it has a different feed dog than yours. It has two rows on the left of needle and 1 row of equal length on the right of needle. Foot looks to be wider as a result….now I have to look into the New Home VS 🙂 Yes, I paid big money for that coverpro and bought almost all the attachments for it. I’m sure there is a use for it but we have industrials 🙂 My wife figured out how to use the break apart seam/diy active seam machine for hemming. pretty smart of her 🙂 And that machine is blazing fast cutting and sewing all in one operation but again has it’s material limitations. I’m the person who goes to the racks of sports clothes at both the high end and low end stores at the mall standing and looking at the seams then making comments to the Mrs. Latest one that I’m trying to figure out is a pair of ladies jeans we got at at the “ukay ukay” store (these are all over the place and take imported goodwill type clothes in country and resales them). The design on the pocket looks to me to be a twin needle with a piece of cording put in on the wrong side of the denim. So the bobbin thread holds that thick cording on the other side making the top side puff out. It looks like then they use an abrasive on the part that puffs out on the other side giving it a faded/white look on the denim. Pretty cool looking. i want to try it 🙂 Now I need to look for a youtube video showing just how the feed dog works on that Fantasy model machine….I’m intrigued. Best regards, Mike

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      10. Hi Mike,
        Interesting about the 48K with wider feed dogs! Doesn’t sound like Singer. Perhaps it was modified? Does it still have an old spring-driven feed or the more modern axis-driven feed?

        Regarding that corded decoration done with twin needle: the bobbin does NOT hold the cord, the bobbin holds normal thread. The cord is fed from a separate spool either using a bed-mounted braider or by feeding it from below the bed through a special hole in the needle plate. I have several machines with such a hole. Took me a while to figure out what it was for. 🙂

        Definitely watch a video of Vigorelli Fantasy in action! It’s complete madness. They also made other models with this mechanism, they were called Maxi (with some number). They were also often badged.

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      11. The Singer is an M series from 1900. I checked it on ISMAC’s. I don’t have a picture but assuming the feed is spring….were some 48k’s axis feed? Yes, the bobbin thread is holding the cord in place after sewn under the material. how it gets fed into the whole thing on the underside is confusing to me. I understand the system where there is a piping foot or even double piping foot on the top but this is underside with the bobbin thread going back and forth over it in a zig zag. On the top side is the twin needle two rows of stitches. It is something I’d sure like to figure out how to do as we are setting up to make work pants and rear pocket design is a big issue if one is to have their own brand. Also, you have me researching the New Home machines. I can see many that are VS but have no way to determine if spring fed. We have an old Singer no 2 Imperial here. It has a 5 inch diameter feed wheel on it. Nothing to go up and down on that machine just a metal wheel that has knurled machined grooves to grip the material. We have a second no 2 in the cue. That one is from 1859 and has a no 1 treadle stand. I’ve been told this is the only known example of a Singer no 2 remaining from the 1850’s…it has a serial number in the thousands. Best regards, Mike

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      12. I don’t know of any 48K with axis feed, but I also don’t know of any 48K with double feed dogs! So not excluding anything. 🙂
        Regarding the underbraider, I’ve written a post about one for Russia cord with a straight stitch machine – search for underbraider. The one for single cord is based on the same idea. You use a tuckmaker cording foot with grooves of correct width to match your cord and your twin needle. The foot is neither the classic tuckmarker nor a cording foot, it is one for sewing with twin needle with the cord under the fabric. The foot has grooves on the underside. It is theoretically possible to feed the cord even without an underbraider or a cord hole in the needle plate, but in practice it is a pain. Industrial machines use an underbraider.

        Regarding New Home VS, they switched from spring feed to axis feed around 1900. But if you look at the photos of the underbelly, you should see immediately which feed it is.

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  6. Hi, Elena! I am an aspiring sewist who used to make dresses a long time ago. I just bought a plastic Singer and instantly regretted it. I have all but banned plastic in my house expect for where I can’t avoid it … this includes my clothing. I have found that visually, a garment sewn on a metal machine just looks finer. Is that my personal bias? Anyway, here’s hoping my plastic one won’t eat my delicates and lasts until I settle down and not worry about portability so I can buy a heavy one. Thank you for your honesty and passion.

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    1. In itself, a plastic machine can sew properly while the gears are still new. However, the definition of “properly” can vary. These days it can be considered normal for a machine to have skewed tension or to skip stitches – I’ve seen it in a manual described as normal operation. Obviously machines as poor as that won’t sew well. In the past that sort of “normality” would have never been tolerated, and machines were built to a much higher standard. What makes the clothes hang badly is uneven stitching with tension that is too high for the material. So yes, it may well be that plastic machines are more likely to do a poor job there! Personally, I just don’t like machines that walk away from me across the table during stitching – literally. 🙂

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  7. Hi! Does the Privileg 480 look familiar to you? I read somewhere that the Privilegs were made by Brother, so it probably has other names as well. I’m hoping you know if it has any plastic gears inside. At least the outside is supposed to be metal.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=privileg+480&tbm=isch

    Sorry if this comment appears twice. I had a problem when logging in and I don’t know if WordPress ate what I wrote the first time.

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    1. Hi, sorry, I don’t know who made Privileg. I think there may have been different makes because one I’ve seen was definitely a Janome. This particular model 480 looks like a Jaguar (Marutzen). They are very good machines usually, but some later models might have plastic gears. However, going by the type of levers that this model has, it appears to be from early 1970s, so probably still all metal. Jaguar was sold under the names of Kenmore 158 series in the USA and Frister & Rossmann in the UK – and also others, I’m sure. As for Brother, I’ve had a few bad experiences with them, so I generally avoid them. Not on the account of plastic gears – I think they are probably about the same as the rest – but generally I wasn’t happy with the sewing results.

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      1. Glad I could help! F+R 504 was an all-steel machine without any plastic gears, if that helps. Not a guarantee of course, but may be an indication.

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  8. Hi Elena, I’ve been wondering what happened between 2011 (when as you say you went through five New Home 632C in half a year – that surely must have been when sewing for a living?) and when you started the blog in 2016/2017. Like, when did you buy the first straight-stitch only machine? Was it just out of curiosity? How soon did it become your primary machine? When was your first vibrating shuttle and was it a revelation right from the beginning? Etc. … 🙂

    By the way I had a laugh when you wrote “Some 30 machines later…” It’s incredible how a single sentence can wrap up so much work, thinking, and ups and downs, I guess! 🙂

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    1. I started this blog when I found a modern replacement timing belt for Lada T132. A fellow enthusiast was adamant I had to tell the world about it. 🙂

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  9. one of the best quotes i have ever come across on the topic of good machines (no matter the type on machine)

    “Short answer: I cannot afford new machines of quality that I require, and I cannot afford to waste money on machines within my budget.”

    i am stuck in the seventies too, from sewing machine, watches, hifi gear, and cars, those are my hobbies, i find those devices, apparatus, machines,…very well designed, fabricated, …they do the work beautifully, you can understand what and how they do it, you can entertain them, maintain, even repair them and you feel rewarded with their use. also if you let me say it they are beautiful, elegant,…

    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have in excess of 100 industrials here (no joke). Plastic is common for stuff like belt guard and sometimes even head cover or know. Not on the drivetrain! Not on the timing either. Even oil pans are cast metal (if they have them). Used to be common for copper or brass oil distribution tubes and they went to clear plastic. Now the oil distribution tubes get old and crack…and sizes hard to get correct on can’t just use aquarium tubing. Some older industrials however have the metal or brass tubing for oil even. Best regards, Mike

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