I have four long bobbin machines, five if you count the little one too. Three are vibrating shuttle machines, one is a cylindrical transverse shuttle – all four “medium” tailors’ machines. The fifth one is a Wittler hybrid – a transverse vibrating shuttle.
These five machines between them not only can sew any fabric under any circumstances (single layer, stretch and jersey, thick seams, edges or corset ribs), but they can do it with distinction and minimal adjustment. I have finally given up trying to use “all-purpose” zig-zag machines for straight stitch – the quality just doesn’t compare, not when I know how good it can be with a long bobbin machine!
But why do I need five of them when in fact each one can sew every fabric? Because they have different strengths, and the setup varies quite a bit, and so rather than redo all the tensions again and reset feed dog height on occasion, I prefer to switch to a different machine that is already set up, and just change the thread to the right colour.
And here they are, described below in further detail:
- Jones Medium CS, 1908
- Bernhard Stoewer’s Serata VS2, 1914
- Clemens Müller’s Veritas VS2, 1910
- Singer 48K, 1902
- Hengstenberg/Anker Wittler hybrid, 1890s
Jones Medium CS
This is my heavy duty machine. It is a long arm vibrating shuttle, or cylindrical shuttle as Jones called it (CS). “Long arm” here refers to the vibrating arm in the underbelly – this design has the centre of rotation closer to the main column, and the shuttle moves on a shallow arch (see a separate post for more details).
This longer arm carries a greater force, certainly in a full size machine like Medium CS (the more common Family CS is 3/4 size). I find that this machine has the greatest punching power of them all, and although it is gentle enough also for fine fabrics, I have it set up for heavy duty work.
This machine was made between 1901 and 1910 – during the reign of King Edward, and we know it because it says on the front “As supplied to Her Majesty Queen Alexandra” – King Edward’s wife.
I estimate the year of manufacture to be 1908 based on the serial number as compared to other known examples.
I got rather lucky with this machine: the previous owner had it updated some time in 1980s. Jones machines from early 1900s normally take old Jones needles – impossible to find today. Although there are some substitutes, they don’t always work very well. But this machine was converted to modern standard domestic needles, and it also received a boss for attaching a hand-crank or a motor. All the work had been done for me already! 🙂
This machine has large double-sided feed dogs (there’s a strip on both sides of the needle, not just on the left) which sit quite low, and a light foot pressure. The original foot is symmetrical – with an equally wide finger left and right, matching the feed dogs.
This setup gives an excellent grip and feed without squashing the material. It reduces slipping of the layers and allows to sew over uneven thicknesses without flinching. I can even keep using the same foot for sewing on edging to a corset with bones inserted: varying thickness with bones on the left and without bones on the right – no problem! Jones Medium CS sews as if it was plain sailing on cotton poplin… 😀 And of course having a feed dog on the right of the needle means that I can use a right-sided zipper foot, too. ☺
The only remaining non-standard feature on my Jones CS is the foot fitting. It is low shank, but lower than standard by about 2mm, so I cannot really use any of my special feet: the foot lift becomes too small and foot pressure too strong. Yet I want to keep using the original straight stitch foot because it works so well with the feed dogs. There is a solution to this: raise the presser bar to the standard height and add a cushion to the fitting groove of the foot (solder on a bit of tin to form that cushion). It’s on my “to do” list. 🙂
Bernhard Stoewer’s Serata VS2
In my opinion, the Serata is the best of the vibrating shuttle machines, and one of the very best straight stitchers overall. And I am so lucky to have the larger model – this machine is full size.
“Serata” was a trade mark registered by Bernhard Stoewer in 1905 – they used it for their vibrating shuttle machines. Stoewer (see www.stoewer-museum.de) was a German manufacturer from Stettin, they made machines for various distributors, so you’ll find them bearing various names and badges. Mine actually has the original Stoewer badge!
But the name frame on the arm was empty – this wasn’t badged for anyone. I put “Serata” into the frame, since this was the original name. Stoewer Museum kindly dated this machine for me to January 1914.
This is my second Serata – I had a smaller version before, and it was the best machine in the house (see for example this post). But “family” size (3/4) really doesn’t work for me – I like large harp space, and finally I found one! It belonged to an old seamstress – that figures.
Stoewer vibrating shuttle machines are based on the Singer design with the short vibrating arm moving the shuttle in a curved arch.
So my Serata VS2 is similar to Singer 127K (the improved 27K), except that Serata can also sew in reverse, has a better shuttle and a gentler feed. The feed dogs are very similar to Singer, but the foot has a somewhat wider right finger.
The feed mechanism in the underbelly has a retaining spring that prevents it from jerking about, making for a smoother sewing overall.
I don’t want to say that Singer 27/127 is not a good machine – it is, it really is. It is reliable, smooth and very capable in sewing all sorts of fabrics; it’s got an excellent feed – in particular the improved 127. But Serata is better still.
I was also very lucky to inherit Serata’s accessories, in particular the second needle plate for delicate fabrics – the one with a tiny needle hole. The size of the needle hole indicates the weights of fabrics that the machine is built for. My Jones Medium CS has a needle hole of 2.2mm for needles up to size 140/24 – clearly set up for heavy duty work. Serata’s regular needle plate has a hole of 1.8mm – a size common to many other machines, including modern ones. This is good for needle sizes up to 110/18. But the plate for delicate fabrics has a needle hole of only 1.5mm – for needle sizes up to 80/12, and for fine thread.
Swapping out a needle plate on these machines is quite an easy job – just the one screw on the side. So Serata is set up for medium to delicate fabrics, mostly woven – because I’ve got another girl to sew jersey.
Clemens Müller’s Veritas VS2
In many ways Clemens Müller’s Veritas is similar to Serata: it’s based on Singer’s VS2 design with the addition of reverse, and it has a modified feed and shuttle. It was made in Dresden, Germany around 1910, and “Veritas” was a trade mark registered by Clemens Müller in 1894.
But then, Veritas is as different from Serata as it is different from Singer. Veritas’ feed dogs are on the right smaller than Serata’s, so a right-sided zipper foot works only just. The right finger on the foot is also narrower, but not as thin as Singer’s.
The feed has a retaining spring like Serata, but the foot pressure is a little stronger and “sharper” due to smaller feed dogs. The needle hole is fairly large, similar to Jones Medium CS.
This setup proves ideal for jersey and other stretchy materials. To make a flexible stitch, both the bobbin tension and the upper tension need to be quite low, so that the thread could weave in and out of the fabric “storing” extra length in coils that would open when the fabric is stretched. Trying to sew smooth woven fabric with the same low tension results in uneven stitching – in particular when using modern highly twisted thread (that bit gave me headaches upon headaches!). So, although my Veritas is perfectly capable of sewing both jersey and woven fabrics even with highly twisted thread, I am too lazy to fiddle with the tensions, and I have her setup for jersey and stretch. And as I sew quite a lot of it, it saves me time and frustration! 🙂
Ah, this is a different beast altogether! Singer 48K is a cylindrical transverse shuttle machine – it is based on the tailors’ “medium” model 13 with many improvements. Built in 1902, it was ahead of its time. It has a new, redesigned “bullet” shuttle like the vibrating shuttle machines, and takes the same bobbins. It takes standard domestic needles and standard low shank feet. And although the harp space is not as large as on a full size VS, it is larger than a domestic 3/4 size.
And yet it is a transverse shuttle machine with its characteristic very gentle feed. The feed dogs are one-sided (so no right-sided zipper foot here), and the right finger on the foot is very thin indeed.
This is a true fine worker. It can weave the thread in and out of fabric so that the sewing thread becomes a part of the fabric, indistinguishable from the threads used in the weave or in the knit. This gives the largest stretch for jersey and the lightest stitch for chiffon and voile. It also works miracles on quilts! 😀
But this machine is not an “automatic” – thread tension depends on the stitch length and foot pressure, and requires a careful adjustment for each project. That blending of threads does not happen on its own – it requires practice, but is so worth it!
The little one
This is a Hengstenberg/Anker Wittler machine made in Bielefeld, Germany in 1890s. It is a vibrating shuttle turned 90 degrees to make a transverse vibrating shuttle. This is a small 1/2 size model with a Saxonia balance wheel – a large geared balance wheel with both a hand-crank handle and a groove for a treadle belt.
This machine is still a bit of work in progress, mainly because of that balance wheel. Firstly, it turns clockwise (away from you), and so requires either a clockwise motor to put behind the column as usual, or a regular motor to put to the right of the machine as I’ve done at first.
Well, that puts the motor rather far out and the machine does not fit on the table properly, so I’ll be using a clockwise motor in a more compact manner.
The main problem however is the size of the balance wheel. I tried using the usual sewing machine pulley on the motor, but that immediately tripped the circuit breaker in the house – not because the motor was faulty but because it had to go full power to deliver a decent stitching speed, and that was mistaken by the circuit as a surge. The motor had to rotate a lot faster than usual because the ratio of the diameters of the balance wheel to pulley was too great.
There are two ways to sort it out: either reduce the balance wheel diameter, or use a larger pulley. I toyed with the idea of replacing the Saxonia balance wheel with a regular one, but I rather like the geared wheel because it makes the machine go so very light, and anyhow I couldn’t get it off. 😉 I did find a larger pulley for the motor, but it still needs a hole for the positioning screw drilled and threaded – it’s in the queue. 🙂 It will be worth it: this will make a very light going little machine with a tremendous punching power delivered by the Saxonia gears.
Other than being a fantastic fun project to do, it will be a useful little helper to sit next to the overlocker on the small table (hence the need for a compact motor layout) and to do quick “auxillary” jobs that would otherwise require to swap out the main machine. The Wittler mechanism combines features of a transverse shuttle machine with those of a vibrating shuttle machine: it has that gentle spring-driven feed of a transverse shuttle machine made a bit stronger by the Wittler modifications; it uses the swinging arm of a vibrating shuttle machine for a much lighter movement; it has a forward-facing needle allowing me to convert it to twin needle – just add a needle groove on the other side of the bar, easy in this design. And then of course there’s the Wittler shuttle with an improved thread path that actually runs unobstructed and can deliver a full range of tensions (this was a problem I could not solve on the Vesta prototype).
So this little machine is not on active duty yet, but it is already working – as a hand-crank with the original single 12×1 needle.
I’ve tested it and found it useful and unique, and one day it will be finished and will join my sewing crew as another secret weapon next to its bigger sisters.