Fancy stitches · Vertical rotary hook · Vigorelli · Zig-zag timing

The Mad Hatter – Vigorelli Fantasy

If you thought that Necchi’s Supernova was mad with its stackable cams and four pattern modifiying knobs with virtually infinite design variations, then you haven’t seen Vigorelli Fantasy. Bigger stackable cams that combine several patterns, seven pattern modifying knobs and levers, and a feed mechanism not only moving back and forth, but also sideways giving you a 17mm wide embroidery ribbon versus the usual 4-5mm in every other machine! Madness, I’m telling you! Madness coming your way. 🙂

Vigorelli Fantasy, 1963

Meet Vigorelli Fantasy, 1963*.

* The manual that came with my machine, was dated May 1963. Fantasy badged White 1164 was selling in the USA in 1966, so it’s been “current” for a few years, and could have first been released a bit earlier.

It is a marvel of engineering and definitely the maddest sewing machine you’ve ever seen, but in a good way. The knobs and levers have well-defined, consistent and logical functions, and the cams show quite clearly what sort of designs they produce. The manual explains how the whole thing fits together, and design selection wheels show the exact settings for each control that you need to make, and the needles to use – single, narrow twin, wide twin or triple. Yes, triple! This machine is designed for triple needles! 😮

Later versions of Vigorelli had far fewer knobs, and many more individual cams to compensate. They were a lot less mad, if not entirely sane – not with that sideways movement! But I like the old controls – when I understand the logic, I don’t mind the complexity.

The overview

Vigorelli Fantasy is not a heavy duty machine – it is a fine worker. A very robust fine worker. 🙂

What I mean is that Fantasy is not built to handle dense and heavy materials like leather or sail canvas – it has polymer gears and may not take the strain. So I suppose you’ll have to embroider your sails elsewhere. Instead, it is made for sewing very fine, slippery or stretchy fabrics and do exhuberant embroidery – even on heavier wool.

Normally I stear well clear of any kind of plastic, resin or other polymer gears because they just don’t last, usually. But there are exceptions. With Vigorelli you don’t have a choice: it comes with polymer gears, take it or leave it. It’s a unique machine, so I’ll take it, gears and all. I must say that in spite of obvious work history, those polymer gears look pristine. They feel spongy and look somewhat translucent, I’m not sure what they are made of, but this is not the usual hard plastic that is so prone to cracking and crumbling. So fingers crossed!

My Vigorelli was branded Jones, but the logo came off during cleaning – it was just a waterslide transfer that crumbled with time. You can still see re-branding in the manual!

I put the original logo on, or something like it. I cleaned and oiled it and was relieved to discover that everything worked! Well, almost. 🙂

The main mechanism has straight stitch and zig-zag, three needle positions and reverse with independently controlled stitch length! It is a front-loading vertical rotary, but there is no drop feed – the machine comes with a raised needle plate for free hand embroidery. But look at those feed dogs! Massive.

The stitch quality is excellent, also in reverse. Zig-zag width is 5mm and maximum stitch length is 4mm, all the usual specs. Except that there is no foot pressure control. Well, it’s there – under the top lid, so you are not really supposed to touch it. It is set quite light, and rather than fumbling with it, you are supposed to pick a different foot. Admittedly, there are a few to choose from. 🙂

These large feet are very effective with the wide feed dogs, so indeed most of the times you can leave the foot pressure well alone. Except of course I can’t – not when I’m embroidering four layers of woolly jersey – so I’ll be drilling a hole in the lid for the pressure adjuster to poke through. 🙂

The one thing that was actually wrong with my Fantasy, is that zig-zag width only came up to 3.5mm, which is meager. Turns out, it was set that way – I wonder why?

Looking from the top, it is that screw painted red. It bolts two bars together, and their connection determines maximum zig-zag width.

Well, there were a few other things not quite right with embroidery, but it was all due to gunk and lack of lubrication. No further adjustments were required.

The embroidery mechanism

This is the heart of madness here, yet it is totally sensible and logical, once you start thinking outside of the box. Sewing machines have so far created fancy stitches and embroideries by moving the needle left and right and moving the feed dogs forward and backward with varying speeds. Every design can be created this way… as long as you are happy to stay within your zig-zag width range! Which was 4-5mm at the time. Nice but modest.

But we want more! We want a much wider ribbon to embroider and longer pattern repeats – 3.5 times wider and longer, at least! We don’t want to have to stick to starched cotton for embroideries – we want to embroider satin and organza too!

Ok, no problem. Just give your machine massive feed dogs for better grip and an equally massive foot for keeping in place that satin and organza without ripping it to shreds with excessive foot pressure, and you are ready for anything. Oh and while you’re at it, rather than moving the needle left and right within your zig-zag ribbon to make designs, move the material under the needle left and right – that low foot pressure is really a must here. And keep that needle moving left-right as well, now you can have satin stitch designs stretched left and right as you move the material sideways. Plus of course the usual back-and-forth movement of the feed dogs… Still with me? 🙂

Here is a short video of the Vigorelli needle plate movement:

Vigorelli Fantasy does not provide an infinite number of designs. Instead, it provides 30-odd distinct designs per cam, plus variations. Pattern wheels show settings for 22 designs plus straight stitch and plain zig-zag, but I found that there is always more – these are just examples. The machine came with four embroidery cams – you do the maths.

The cams have three layers: sideways movement done with a groove on the bottom layer, forward and reverse movement done with the metal cam in the middle and zig-zag width with the top black cam.

Here is what the cam socket looks like:

The red lever is controlled by the red knob producing patterns shown in red: the sideways movement. It can be set from 0 to 12mm. The whole middle section of the machine moves under the foot. Sheer madness!

The blue actuator rod engages the forward and reverse motion cam and is controlled by the blue knob which has two positions: + and 0 (on/off). You turn it between the two, stopping it half way is no good although the machine does not get damaged. 🙂 Engaging the blue knob automatically disengages the stitch length knob and the reverse button, lest you mess up the pattern with your meddling. :-]

The yellow actuator rod engages the zig-zag width cam which is controlled by the golden knob (+ or 0). This creates either the satin stitch pattern from the cam or just a plain band of zig-zag. The width is set by the familiar zig-zag width knob from 0 to 5 – and logically, it is yellow. The satin stitch patterns are aligned left, right or centre according to the needle position setting (another lever, not shown here, S-C-D or Left-Centre-Right in Italian).

The white knob bottom centre is stitch length as you would expect it, but with a special extra-fine control for satin stitches on lengths under 1mm.

The white knob top centre is pattern elongation, from 1 to 4 followed by 0. No, it makes perfect sense! On 1 the cam rotates with the highest speed producing the shortest pattern – typically you start with that. Turning the knob to higher numbers elongates the pattern – 2, 3 or 4 times longer, or anything in between. This is done by slowing down cam rotation, until it stops completely – thus 0 disables the pattern so you can sew plain straight stitch and zig-zag without removing the cam!

And here it is – with a cam inserted and everything engaged.

The diagrams on the cam show the types of stitches it generates, colour coded to the knobs that need to be engaged.

The outer rim shows the satin stitch pattern activated with the gold knob and modulated with the yellow zig-zag width knob. The pattern was originally in yellow but it faded and became difficult to see on the silver background, so I traced it in brown. It’s kind of yellow, in the dark. 🙂

In the centre there are two patterns. The all-red one is in forward-only motion produced with the red knob engaged and the blue knob on 0 (disengaged). In this mode the stitch length knob sets the stitch length as you would expect. For line drawing designs without zig-zag you would typically set it between 1 and 2, while for satin stitch designs (with zig-zag) you’d normally want a dense stitch at around 0.5 which is marked with a diamond. You really come to appreciate that fine control on short stitch lengths here! Setting stitch length so short also shortens the pattern, so if it starts looking squashed, you can elongate it with the elongation knob.

The second pattern in the centre of the cam is red on the left and blue on the right. The two halves form one pattern – the colours are simply to show that you need both the red and the blue knobs engaged. As engaging the blue knob disables stitch length control, you cannot get satin stitching in this mode. (I feel a modification brewing!)

There are also black lines with dots and letters D or S there. These indicate certain positions on the pattern so you could choose where to start. The point you’re at is right at the top – there’s a mark on the door for you to align cam marks with, but you can’t see it with the door open! :-p (Another modification brewing.) D means that you’re doing the pattern from left to right: what you’ve just done is to the left of the mark, and what you’re doing next is to the right of the mark. S is the other way around – you are doing the pattern from right to left. (Why didn’t they just flip the drawing upside down and do away with D and S?)

And there you have it: all set up and the door to Alice’s adventures in Wonderland closed. 🙂

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15 thoughts on “The Mad Hatter – Vigorelli Fantasy

  1. Blimey. For a while I couldn’t work out how the sideways motion was achieved, since the feed dogs just go fore and aft. The I realised the whole middle of the bed moves sideways!
    A fun, especialist machine, no doubt about it. Thanks for telling us about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dan! I didn’t make it clear – what looks like a free arm is in fact that middle section. I’ll update the post. Also, a stitch library is still to come, and the best buttonholes yet – there’s a cam for that.

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  2. Wow, this is fascinating, and it’s from the 1950s or 60s, no less! I’m very sorry that you won’t be able to embroider sails and your leather jacket, but at least you can work with fine fabrics without destroying them. A specialized machine is sometimes appreciate, especially if it works well with a flimsy fabric. Aside from being tricky (how about that satin fabric used for liner on jackets and other items?), a tight pressure foot and a jagged wheel running underneath to feed it along can destroy it.

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    1. Thanks, Tony! Yes, it is actually much harder to make a machine delicate enough to work with fine fabrics than to make a “sledgehammer” to sew sail canvas. But most people want to sew jeans, not silk voile.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, I was wondering if you still have the manual as I could not find it anywhere. I would be interested in having a scanned copy since I am planning on buying the same machine. Let me know if it possible. Best regards

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    1. Hi, yes, I do have the manual in English. It is a thick booklet and I don’t have the time to scan it right away. Please bear with me a few weeks.

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      1. Thanks so much Elena. I went to see the machine today and plan on bringing it back home tomorrow. The owner finally found the manual !!! She did not remember she had it. Thanks so much for replying and have a great week. Best regards,

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  4. I just got a vigorelli sewing machine, the green one, robot? at a yard sale, works great but I am missing a part. Do u know of anyone who might have parts? Thanks, JMohr

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