Favta · Motors · Vertical oscillating hook · Zig-zag timing

Favta Automatic, or was it all worth it?

This is a lovely little machine that is only slightly larger than the Featherweight, but it doesn’t just do straight stitch but also zig-zag and fancy stitches with cams, it’s got a good free arm and a large working table. Fantastic!

This was a really expensive little thing too – I found a receipt in the box: £51-9 paid in 1963, translating to £1000 today. A thousand pounds! But it did come with 25 years of warranty, and you don’t see that every day.

Favta is – was – a lesser known Swiss company that was quickly sold off (see Needlbar for details). They developed three variants of this machine: straight stitch, zig-zag and automatic (with interchangeable cams). In the UK it was often badged for Cresta, just like mine here (I added “Favta” myself).

I bought two Favtas on eBay – they were sold together and needed work, so the idea was to get one working machine out of two. Which I managed, eventually.

The motor

Both motors were burned out and rusty beyond any use, or at least I wasn’t going to use them. The seller had noted that motors needed work but I didn’t expect it to mean “they need replacing”.

If this doesn’t look too bad to you, consider that all the insulation was saturated with oil, including the insulation on the coils of the strator. The wire broke when I just looked at it, and I wasn’t about to connect this up to the mains to see whether it would catch fire or merely smoke. 😣

Upon a closer inspection I realised that those were actually standard motors like Sew-Tric or Hillman, only taken out of their housing and placed into specially designed mounting brackets.

Those brackets screwed into the same positions on the strator as the casing, so potentially I could just use one of the standard motors here.

However, in these motors there is a capacitor that is connected to the casing on one end and to the strator on the other end. This could be disconnected and reconnected again with the mounting brackets from Favta. The Favta strator itself is the same size as Sew-Tric, so Favta rotor could be used to rebuild the original configuration. The reason for using Favta rotor is that it has a longer shaft with the fan on the other end to work with the motor covers. This shaft is also thicker than standard and the pulley ends with a bobbin winder. Quite a clever design, that!

The other approach would be to install a cased external motor instead. This means you are loosing the bobbin winder but you are gaining a motor socket so that there are no cables hard-wired to the machine. In the original design, Favta had a cable coming through a hole at the front which plugged into a pedal.

I decided for the external motor because I prefer cased motors to open ones and because I like my standard motor sockets. I was able to mount a 40W Sew-Tric motor into the original position using the original Favta outer mounting brackets, with the pulley bracket flipped so as to allow more space for the pulley.

I couldn’t use the original motor belt because it was too wide for the pulley, but not to worry – standard neoprene belts are available at various lengths, including short ones.

The light is connected to the motor socket in the usual way, and the original power socket on the machine is not connected to anything but I thought it would be better to leave there than to have a hole. 🙂

The only point of contention here is that you cannot really regulate the belt tension. But I wrapped some rubber bands around the groove of the balance wheel to get the tension right. They provide an excellent grip, too. 🙂

Now we have power! 😀

What’s wrong?

Beware of vintage machines in nearly new condition – you have to wonder why they were not used. Often it is something small – fix it and you have a nearly new machine with a huge life left in it. But sometimes something fundamental is wrong which requires a lot of work and possibly parts that are either awfully expensive or no longer exist.

I should have been weary. One of the two machines in the lot was in a well-used condition, with paint peeling off in places – it was allowed to rust in a garage. The other machine was nearly pristine, except for the burned out motor.

What happened?

Without thinking (always a bad idea!) I picked the better looking machine for restoration leaving the other one as a donor for parts. So, with the motor installed, I tried sewing.

Ok, she ran rather heavy. But she’d been sitting in a cupboard for over 50 years, so that’s normal. She felt quite smooth though. Good.

Straight stitch: fine. Reverse, drop feed – all fine.

Zig-zag: I got straight stitch. What’s wrong? 😦

Close observation showed that the sideways swinging of the needle was not done when the needle was up but when the needle was in the fabric! To be precise, half of it was done in the fabric: the needle went up, started moving sideways but didn’t get far enough and entered the fabric half way, then finished the second half of the sideways movement while being in the fabric. The result was straight stitch with large needle holes. 😣

Through the door

Favta uses cams to produce fancy stitches, including zig-zag – a well-known and widely used concept. The cam is inserted at the back.

So the reason for my non-existent zig-zag is poor synchronisation of the cam with the up and down movement of the needle.

According to the manual, lifting the cam off the socket should be really easy. Nope. It would not budge! I tried all the tricks of the trade – penetrating oil, heating, knocking, even banging and also waiting – nothing. It’s stuck. But on the other machine it does come off very easily! Aha! 🙂 All I have to do is swap out those geared sockets.

So let’s have a closer look at the other machine.

That gear doesn’t look very healthy. 😦 It is a plastic gear, and one ridge is gone completely and another one started to crumble. 😦 But the cam comes off easily, and the gear works for now, so I’m using it. And here is what the good gear looks like, with the zig-zag cam permanently stuck:

Zig-zag synchronisation

To remove the gear from its socket you need to loosen 5 screws:

It’s one gear holding screw in the body of the machine and two screws in the shaft gear and shaft collar. Turn the balance wheel to bring each screw in sight.

Now lift the gear out of its socket. Gently or by force – whatever works, just be careful not to damage the plastic ribs on it! This takes some perseverance.

There is a gear and a collar behind it, they should move on the shaft quite loosely in order to be able to install the fancy stitch gear. They’ll be fixed later with those holding screws.

Shift the collar all the way to the right to give you some space to maneuvre. Place the shaft gear about 1mm away from the collar with the thread just starting on the left as shown in the photo. This also brings one of the holding screws into view.

Put the zig-zag cam onto the fancy stitch gear and insert the gear into the socket so that the pin that rides along the cam is resting against one of the “out” bits. Push the gear in all the way.

This may not go quite so easily. It took me two days to get it in correctly, and it only worked when I threatened the machine to trash it as a lost case. If the gear is not going in with a push of your finger, don’t “encourage” it with a hammer! The gear will go in but the machine will be permanently jammed. Also make sure that the shaft gear does not move left too much. Push the cam riding pin left by hand as far as it will go – it must be about 1mm away from the cam’s “out” bit. If it is closer, the gear will go in but you’ll have jamming later.

So, when the gear is in, it’s time for the synchronisation games.

A zig-zag cam has flat stretches (red) and sloping stretches (green). It is on the sloping stretches that the needle moves left or right; on the flat stretches it remains in the same spot. Each stitch is done with one flat and one sloping stretch. So we need to make sure that the flat stretches are synchronised with the needle being in the fabric, and the sloping stretches with the needle being “above the surface”.

With the gear positioning screws loosened, turn the balance wheel to move the needle up or down. Note the position of the cam riding pin. Ideally, the middle of a flat stretch should correspond to the needle being at its lowest point. The cam riding pin however may be in a different position, for example at the beginning of a flat stretch or in the middle of a sloping stretch. Advance the needle to what you think would be the corresponding position and tighten the shaft gear holding screw that is in view. When you turn the balance wheel now, the zig-zag gear should rotate.

Check the movement of the needle – it must not move sideways when it is “below ground”. If you got it right from the first go, you were lucky! If not, turn the balance wheel until the tightened screw in the shaft gear comes into view, loosen it, adjust the needle height by turning the balance wheel, tighten the screw again, check, repeat.

Make sure that the shaft gear didn’t sneak up on you and moved to the left – push the cam riding pin to the left by hand and check that you still have 1mm clearance from an “out” bit of the cam. If you don’t, the gear might have to come out and the whole thing might need to be taken up again from the top…

Don’t forget to stop for food intake so as not to starve to death in the process. This can take a while! 😑

When you’ve finally got it right, tighten both holding screws on the shaft gear, then slide the collar left against it as far as it will go and tighten both screws on it as well. Finally, tighten the fancy stitch gear holding screw.

Needle positioning

Next, you need to verify that the needle movements make sense both for straight stitch and zig-zag as controlled by the zig-zag width lever at the front, and for all three needle positions set by the needle positioning lever, also at the front. Make sure that you check several stitches in each position because jamming can occur now and again and will need to be fixed.

If adjustments are necessary, there are three screws to help you:

Loosening the zig-zag width and needle positioning screws will release the corresponding levers and allow you to re-adjust them; loosening the needle centering screw will allow you to set how far the needle comes out left or right.

Don’t loosen multiple screws at once! Take them one by one – it’s confusing enough. Make an adjustment, tighten the screw, check straight stitch and zig-zag in all three needle positions with several stitches each time. Repeat. Try to come away from it with at least some of your hair still in place.

This process is absolutely maddening because everything depends on everything, and every now and again the machine will jam. There is just not enough room in there for all these levers, gears and joints and they bump into each other and block each other rather quickly. However, I got it set up and sewing properly, so it is possible! (And you don’t want to know how many Skyrim’s dragons and Cyrodiil’s goblins had to be sacrificed on the altar of my sanity in the process!)

Mission impossible: the main belt

The scruffier one of the two Favtas had no problems with zig-zag or exchanging cams, so once I relialised that the prettier one had mechanical problems, I considered switching my attentions to the scruffy one. After all, performance is more important than looks. However, here I found that the main belt that transfers power from the balance wheel to the main axis, all but perished.

Locating a replacement belt would not have been a problem since this is a common toothed belt. It is not a timing belt either – the needle and hook synchronisation is done with shafts and joints next to it. However, putting it on looks like a Mission Impossible – there is no way that I could see to get a circular belt around the upper gear without disassembling the entire upper mechanism in order to remove the main shaft! And this is where I draw the line.

So, unless there is a belt that could be opened and closed, I see no possibility to exchange the main belt. 😦

Which is why I went for fixing the zig-zag on the prettier machine – it had a well-preserved main belt.

Was it all worth it?

In the end, I did get one working machine with lots of functionality in a small package. I’ve got seven different cams, including three utility stitches: blind hem, stitched zig-zag and abutted stitch (or plain flatlock). In particular the latter is quite uncommon, and I’m glad to have it here.

The machine is still rather heavy going, in particular when just starting, and I have to help it with turning the balance wheel. I don’t think it is the fault of the machine itself though – just gunk and dust in the joints common to abandoned machines. This should all clear with use. However, the small balance wheel positioned low is particularly hard to turn, and the initial stiffness puts a lot of excessive strain on the main belt, so I do hope and pray that it will survive until the machine finally runs light. It would have been better to place the balance wheel on the main shaft as in most machines, then turning the balance wheel would not only be a lot more convenient, but would also mean turning the main shaft directly, and the belt wouldn’t be strained. When using the motor, the forces would be the same, regardless of the position of the balance wheel.

I do like that the motor uses a regular motor belt and not one of those rubber “friction drives”. A motor belt is so much easier to maintain or replace, and it doesn’t make the machine sound like a tank when it grows old. Plus, it makes it possible to replace the whole motor without too much trouble, as I had done here.

The internal arrangement of the cam mechanism could do with an extra 5mm between the conglomerate of levers and the cam gears – that would save so many headaches! But now that it’s set up, I hope to never have to touch it again.

On the plus side, Favta Automatic does have a lot to offer. Even though the cam selection is limited, it does include very good utility stitches and nice satin stitches – the stuff used most often anyway. I can easily do without the other forty cams with just having these seven.

It is a small machine, so ideal as a general helper to share a working table with an overlocker. The free arm is very useful – high, narrow and long enough, and the extension table is generous in size and easy to put on and off. Although it is necessarily high so that the free arm would be useful, it is larger than most extension tables of similar machines, and that extra surface turns it into a help rather than a hindrance. I can actually see myself using it with this machine.

The mechanism is the familiar “standard domestic” vertical oscillator, but with a twist: the bobbin case is mounted at an angle (the clip is usually horizontal).

This is a completely standard hook, the only difference is where they put the notch in the surround to fix the orientation of the bobbin case. But this small change has a big effect: there is more room between the point where the lower thread comes out of the spring on the bobbin case and where it meets the upper thread, even with the needle in the left-most position. This extra room makes forming stitches much smoother and reduces jerks of the lower thread and of the bobbin – the same thing that made Singer reverse the hook orientation in model 15-88.

In fact, I like this twisted bobbin case so much, I’m considering introducing new sideways notches in other machines with the same hook. 😮

So, was it all worth it? Yes, I got a lovely little helper. No, I would not recommend anyone to buy one of these unless it was in a perfect condition.

The main problem with vintage machines is spare parts. Are they still common 50 years later? 100 years later? They are, if your machine is a Singer or another big make. But with a lesser known make you could be in trouble. And as usual, plastic gears and belts present problems, with any make.

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18 thoughts on “Favta Automatic, or was it all worth it?

  1. Elena,
    I toyed with splashing out on those Fatva machines on Ebay, but managed to resist. Sounds like I saved myself some grief! Well done for getting one going.
    Really not a good design feature having to dismantle the machine completely to change the drive belt. That’s one good reason they didn’t sell well. I can’t understand how that metal drive wheel got damaged so badly. It must have been abused, surely?
    Dan H

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    1. Dan, if you had one that was in perfect condition and didn’t require any tinkering, it would be worth it. They really do have lots of good features. But I don’t think they age very well.

      What do you mean by the metal drive wheel getting damaged? All the metal parts were fine – I must be misunderstanding something.

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    2. Did you mean the damage to the fancy stitch driving gear? That brown gear is plastic! Of the crumbling kind, too. :-p I’ll make it clearer in the post.

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  2. I like tinkering, but like you I don’t like having to completely strip machines. I was thinking of the stripped gear on the back of the zig zag cam. I looked at your post on my ‘phone and it looked metal. Presumably it’s plastic than?! Sounds like the previous owner tried to operate the machine in zig zag without freeing it up first. A shame.

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    1. Oh, I see! I didn’t even notice it being damaged… No, it’s a metal gear. The only non-metal parts are the brown fancy stitch gear and the main belt.

      Well, the machine obviously got mis-aligned somehow, I’m sure it was sewing just fine when they just bought it. Looks like something drastic happened – may be they dropped it or something – and it jammed, they forced it, may be hammered it, so that the zig-zag cam got stuck, then they overloaded the motor and burned it out. They were probably refused a free repair because abuse is never covered by warranty! But now it’s finally fixed, and I even still have some hair left. 😉

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    2. Right, ok, I think I got myself completely confused now. :-p Zig-zag is done with two interlocking gears: horizontal shaft gear (metal) and vertical cam gear (plastic). The plastic gear from the pretty machine was like new but the cam was permanently stuck on it. The plastic gear from the scruffy machine was damaged (although still working) but the cam was easily removable as it should be. So I chose to put the damaged gear into the pretty machine in order to be able to use cams.

      The horizontal shaft gear behind it was also a little damaged on the pretty machine. It was actually chipped at the right edge of the thread, even though it’s metal. But I don’t think it’s a problem, although it might contribute to the difficulties of putting on the vertical gear.

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  3. Interesting about the plastic gear being stuck on. Husqvarna machines from the ’60s and ’70’s have issues with cracked plastic cams which fit on a metal shaft. I think what happens is the plastic shrinks over time , putting more and more pressure on the shaft inside until the plastic cracks. Could that be the issue with the stuck gear I wonder?

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    1. I don’t think so since the cam itself is metal. The plastic gear wasn’t stuck here, it’s the metal cam on metal shaft that was stuck. I think it got hammered on.

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  4. Just found your very useful report, like you I bought one of these machines on ebay on a whim! Luckily mine was in very good condition apart from smelling like an ashtray. It sews a beautiful straight stitch and zig zag but when I changed the cam it wouldn’t form a proper stitch. I sew on Singer Featherweights and a 201 for the heavy stuff so I didn’t really need another machine so I must admit after giving it a good clean and oil, had a quick blast on her and she is now under the bed! My intention is to get her out again at some point and try again with the cams. I dropped the cam when I was removing it, gosh it was tricky to get out won’t make that mistake again, it was well jammed down the back. Thanks for posting the info. Sharon

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  5. Just found your blog after an evening of searching the web for vintage sewing machine info. I have just inherited my mother’s Necchi Supernova Automatica, which she bought in Germany in ’58 or ’59. She apparently had the power wire jury-rigged for stateside use while there and I’m replacing the socket but there are some minor other issues with it. Perhaps reading your blog will give me the courage to tackle them!

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  6. Elena, it looks like the problem with your machine is the pendulum timing is off. The needle should start to move sideways a little bit after the needle rises out of the fabric. This is adjusted by loosening the set screws on the fancy stitch shaft gear as you call it and rotating that gear on the shaft slightly until you have achieved a perfect parabolic needle swing above the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to loosen the set screws and hold the gear in place with a screwdriver on the set screw while rotating the hand wheel slightly. Tighten the screw and try it. When you get the needle swinging perfectly, tighten up both screws and you’ve got it. I know it’s kinda late but hope this helps.

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  7. Wow, that rubber band trick is amazing! My treadle machine has been bothering me for ages because the belt was slipping on the pulley. I always had to turn the handwheel a bit by hand to get it started. I was considering shortening the belt but that’s a permanent change that I wasn’t even sure would help. But a single rubber band wrapped twice on the pulley completely eliminated the slipping!

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  8. Elena – you mention that the belt that disintegrated is a common, easily obtained belt. Do you have the specs on it? (tooth count, etc.) I was thinking it may be the same belt as the Cresta T132, but want to make sure. I have a Favta in mint condition that has been sitting on the shelf for years, awaiting a new belt. I am willing to dismantle to install.

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    1. Hi, I don’t have specifications. I thought that a common neoprene motor belt could be used, you just need to measure the length. But it was so long ago that I don’t remember exactly, sorry.

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