Necchi went Supernova in 1955 – there was a big bang but the world survived. 🙂
It says lifetime guarantee on that ad, I wonder if I can pop my Supernova to a local Necchi dealer for a free repair? The balance wheel clutch is still stuck.
This is my Necchi Supernova Automatica C, Italy, 1955. This is the original first edition, as far as I can make out. It has complicated knobs and all steel gears. The motor was smoking and the exterior was in a bit of a state when it arrived.
The interior was also in a bit of a state with rust in places.
But the accessories box contained a full set of cams, and even some extras that the original owner had bought separately, plus a new buttonhole cam with lever bought in 1969 to replace the original chipped one, which is also present. A circular sewing attachment, a needle plate for a twin needle (set sideways! – they’ve gone forward in time by 60 years and copied my recent invention), a feed dog cover for embroidery (even though we can drop the feed dogs too), a manual and a project book, but no feet, which is ok except for the one special foot for the twin needle, but I was lucky enough to find it lurking in Helen Howes’ shop, where it is lurking no longer.
The Supernovas came in several variants: straight stitch only (BF), zig-zag (BU) and zig-zag with cams (Automatica). They could be delivered built into a cabinet, or with a stand-alone base, but Automatica also came as a free arm! And that’s what I’ve got. 🙂
Soon after the first edition, Necchi brought out an updated version – Supernova Ultra. As far as I can tell, the only difference is in slightly fancier knobs and a few gadgets…
So, here is my Supernova Automatica C – all cleaned up.
The machine was generally working as it came to me – the previous owner seems to have cared for it very well, up into late 1970s, but then… Owners don’t always age as gracefully as their machines, and this Supernova was spending increasingly much time in some dusty and humid environment – a garage, perhaps?
So, there were some problems. Fortunately, nothing serious, just requiring tuning and adjustment.
The “drunken sailor” problem
Firstly, she would not sew a straight stitch – it came out distinctly zig-zaggy! 😮 Turns out, there was rust and gunk (but mostly loose rust particles) clogging up the zig-zag assembly, which is quite complex on this machine. I was lucky to find a service manual for a similar model (downloaded free from freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com), and although my zig-zag mechanism was even more complex than that, it was a very good start! The cam module clips onto the zig-zag module, so you can unscrew it and move out of the way.
Also remove the frontal plate through which the needle position and zig-zag width levers are protruding. This gives access to the mechanism.
Move the zig-zag width lever all the way to the right to bring forward the regulators. It’s a three-tier construction and the groove in the middle tier is upside down! I would have never thought to oil there! And look at all the rust…
The really sensitive bit is the one with the ball bearings visible from the top.
But beware: it’s double layer ball bearings as is revealed in the manual. You can’t get to the lower level ones without disassembling everything which I didn’t want to do. So I resorted to drenching the top layer with oil and hoping it would seep through to the lower layer all by itself.
The little asymmetric screw cap in the above photo is a regulator of needle bar position. It rests against the little pole next to it. Set the needle position central and adjust it until the needle is exactly in the centre of the needle plate.
But it still wouldn’t stitch straight. 😦 Play around with the mechanism and observe that there is a sweet spot at a certain position of the zig-zag lever where indeed all lateral motion of the needle bar stops to get that elusive straight stitch. But that sweet spot is not in the left-most position of the lever! If you go too far left, you get zig-zag again.
The solution was so simple, it’s painful. Set the left zig-zag limiting knob exactly at zero. Oh!
But I want to be able to move that knob, and don’t want to fish for the sweet spot every time I go back to straight stitch. I’ll need to install a block on the back of the plate to prevent going too far left.
Putting everything back together and closing the lid, I realised that there is just one oiling hole in it – surely not enough for all those moving parts? But it’s enough if you’ve got a whole dispensing tray attached to it on the underside! 😀 I’ll make sure to keep that filled.
The “lazy dogs” problem
Then I tried some fancy stitches – they are so very fancy that I’ll be writing a separate post about them, although with infinite possibilities (according to the manual), it is bound to get pretty long. So bear with me. 🙂
Now then, the fancy stitches. The manual has some 150 examples, just to get you started 😉 so I tried a few. They came out very squashed, as if the machine wasn’t feeding properly. Back to plain straight stitch – definitely not feeding properly! The maximum setting gives a 2.5mm long stitch. 😦 It should be 4mm!
Such problems are usually caused by the build-up of lint around the feed dogs, so let’s see!
Remove the needle plate and simply lift the feed dogs out of the way! Wow! There’s a spring there, squashing up my finger.
Nope, no lint. Or anyhow, not enough to cause any trouble. Which means that I’ll need to raise the feed dogs. The service manual says they should come up above the needle plate “to the full height of the dogs”. And what does the “full height” mean, exactly? Is it just the shaped bit or does the base count as well? 😐 I think it may depend on your machine.
Anyhow, in my case they were just barely coming above the needle plate, so needed raising.
Looking at the feed dog assembly from the side, it’s the left disk-bolt-nut contraption that regulates the height. But be careful – it’s fragile.
I had to experiment with different height settings, testing them with straight stitch. Set too low, the machine doesn’t feed well and the maximum stitch length is too short. Set too high, the feed dogs bang into the needle plate – that’s obviously wrong. But then it can still be too high, even without banging – stitches get skipped, in particular at larger stitch lengths. Eventually I found a good setting which resulted in a 4mm maximum stitch length, exactly. Now, why didn’t I just measure those stitches before?
So then, back to fancy stitches. Ah yes, much better! Not squashed and almost like the photo in the manual, except that the reverse seems to be feeding too much now…
The “fancy reverse” problem
The upper mechanism of Necchi Supernova very much reminds me of Jaguar‘s which I have just been sorting out last week. Obviously, Necchi was first, by some 20 years. 🙂
Jaguar machines have variable stretch stitch, that is the amount of reverse motion in fancy stitch designs can be adjusted with a knob. Necchi doesn’t have such a knob, but it could have!
That double nut contraption bolts onto a sort of paperclip that hooks the reverse lever. Shortening the “paperclip” results in proportionally more reverse – just screw the nuts a bit further. But be careful – the “paperclip” is fragile! In particular on the threaded top end, mine is very rusty.
It would be quite easy to add variable stretch stitch to a Supernova. Just drill a hole in the top cover above that set of nuts and come up with some clever way to regulate the length of the “paperclip”… Well, may be in a Supernova E edition. 😉
But in this edition, I have to regulate the reverse once and it should work for all stitches. So I prepared several pattern cams for testing to make sure I get the same results as in the manual.
Supernova’s fancy bits
This machine has some remarkable features that don’t look important at first sight – you only realise how clever they are once you start using it.
My Supernova is a free arm model, so it comes with an extension table similar in design to many other machines. Usually such a table is a real pain though – you have to remove it to get to the bobbin. This is true for all those front-loading machines – it’s really awkward if you try to keep the table on, you can’t see a thing, stuff gets in the way, and fumbling with it by touch is difficult when you need to insert the bobbin case pushining forward.
But the Supernova is side-loading, so access to the bobbin is unobstructed under the table, and you insert the bobbin case by pushing it to the right – so much more convenient! In fact, you can do everything – including replacing the needle plate and cleaning the feed dogs – without removing the table.
She can drop her feed dogs, yet also comes with a cover plate for free hand embroidery. It clips onto the needle plate saving you the hassle of replacing it.
The foot is raised in two stages: first, raise nearly to full height but don’t release the thread tension; second, raise fully and release the thread tension. You can feel the lever clicking into the first stage so you could stop there if you wanted. What is it good for? For turning corners in awkward places without having your thread pulled out, or for turning corners when sewing with a double needle, as you cannot pivot on two needles as you would do on one.
And of course it’s got a free moving lever for zig-zag width that can be limited at either end independently. This is great for free hand zig-zag embroidery and monogramming.
And then there are the fancy stitches… No utility stitches though as we see with most other machines, no, the Supernova is an artist – there’s the buttonhole maker set, and the rest you can do manually with the zig-zag lever. But utility stitches on cams are so very useful, also for an artist… So belatedly, Necchi brought out some additional fixed cam triples to give you blind stitch, overcast and stitched zig-zag – you know, the boring stuff. 🙂 Of course, I’d rather have a bunch of extra cams to combine with all the existing fanciness, so I broke up the fixed triplets that the previous owner thoughtfully purchased, giving me five new cam designs and some duplicates of what already was in the set. But I’m leaving that for another post. 🙂
And last but not least: the Supernova has an on/off switch! Don’t laugh at me now – it is such a silly little thing, but most machines don’t have it, so the only way to ensure that your cat is not going to sew your dresses, is to unplug the machine. But plugs are tough to pull out and push in, and then those loose cables hang around the place entangling themselves into tight knots the moment you turn away (I’m sure that’s what’s happening). I would rather leave everything plugged in, with cables in a tidy, and just flick the switch to turn it on and off… So simple, yet so often denied to us…
And what’s that other switch? Oh, the motor speed can be halved for delicate work…
Could a girl ask for more?