Cleaning · Transverse shuttle · Wertheim

The oldest one yet

This is the oldest machine in my collection – an 1885 Wertheim TS, serial number S6331276. It is a low arm model with a fiddle base. ๐Ÿคฉ

This is after cleaning and varnishing, but before rust removal. I found it on eBay in a rather sorry state looking like this (seller’s photo):

A bit dusty, but not too bad really. The paint was coming off however:

But some of the decals were still visible, mother-of-pearl inlays were still there, and most important of all – the machine was still sewing!

When it arrived, it became evident that the paint was peeling off every time you looked – there was surface rust creeping over the cast iron and lifting the paint off. But it was equally true that the machine was turning smoothly and was quite obviously recently used – within the last 10-20 years, going by the state of the oil in it. The needle and bobbin thread was still fresh, too. This machine has been in service for well over 100 years, not just hiding in a cupboard but actually sewing! (Grandma doing some mending, perhaps? Jeans are not a problem for these old girls, you know. Where mum’s modern wonder fails, grandma comes to the rescue.)

So, considering the state of the paint, the first order of the day was to stabilise it, and I did it by varnishing.

I gently cleaned off the dirt and build-up of old oil of which there was 120 years worth, at least. Use plenty of soap and dab with a sponge, much as you’d do when removing a ketchup stain from your wedding dress. More paint came off in flakes, which I saved. Yes, I was going to put them back on!

Most of the shellac had disintegrated and came off, but where it stayed, it turned yellow. There was also still some solidified oil left on the surface – the oldest layer. And of course there was now also fresh flash rust on the exposed cast iron after my cleaning with soap and water. Not a problem! I covered everything with 3-in-1 oil and left it to think about it.

The next day I gently dabbed away the remaining 3-in-1 from the surface using a paper tissue. I rubbed a bit on the cast iron patches to wipe off the rust. I dared to rub on the areas of the remaining shellac and old oil – most of it came off very easily, but you have to know when to stop before you start taking off the decals with the dirt.

I was not trying to make the surface grease free. In fact, I could see a film left by 3-in-1 on the cast iron – it’s supposed to do that. The oil also penetrated the shellac and re-hydrated it much improving the looks. But surely the varnish wasn’t going to stick to an oily surface?

Actually, it did.

This is the first layer of DuraClear polyurethane craft varnish. I put back those flakes of paint that came off before and simply varnished over them. This is a rather thick brush-on varnish that starts out milky white and dries clear.

I applied quite a thick layer so that the varnish could seal the flakes and stick to the oily surface.

Of course the varnish technically does not stick to oil – it is repelled by it. However, the varnish has a high cohesion, so the forces that keep the varnish together are greater than the repellant force of the oil that would normally break the surface. It is a balancing act – if there is too much oil, it wins and breaks the surface.

Which is why you need several layers of varnish. The next layer is mostly sticking to the previous layer of varnish, and due to the high cohesion, it can bridge oily gaps that the previous layer could not. The oil becomes trapped under the shrink wrap which is the varnish.

On the head the paint bubbled up quite badly and the bottom half could not be saved. But what you see here is already varnished – it looks like it is about to fall off but in fact it is perfectly solid and consists of many loose flakes that were put back on. ๐Ÿ˜‹

I didn’t have time to properly clean the mechanism, so I just gave it a rough clean removing the largest build-ups of solidified oil. There is deep surface rust on the bobbin winder and the balance wheel, but it is completely ingrained and is not coming off, and I think I might just leave it. Let’s call it “patina”. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very Steampunk bronze colour.

The machine runs smoothly but the stitch length regulator is of course stuck – the usual problem after the first 100 years. ๐Ÿ˜ I’ll get it cleaned up in due course. I will also need to find replacement needles or adjust the needle clamp for something that’s available today. People keep telling me – NBx5 is available! It’s the perfect replacement for 12×1! It fits, yes, but the only sizes actually available to buy are 40 through 60, and that’s way too thin – I need needles size 80 to 100 in different point types.

I have only briefly sewn with this machine, mainly because it is dripping oil at the moment – I am pre-soaking it to make cleaning easier later. But I noticed that compared to Singer 48K, it has a much stronger feed. The bottom mechanism appears to be the same, or near enough, but the upper mechanism is different: Wertheim has the original design of Singer 12, whereas Singer 48K has a new head with the new presser bar mechanism. There should not be any difference – it’s just a spring pushing down a bar, isn’t it? But the proof is still in the sewing – it behaves differently. I feel an investigation coming up! Especially since I have a few more machines with different variations in their feed mechanisms. Stay tuned. ๐Ÿ˜Š

27 thoughts on “The oldest one yet

  1. Best wishes for getting the stitch length sorted on this one Elena. I’m increasingly nervous of putting aything water based on “black” machines, but you seem to have pulled that off. I suppose getting it dry again quickly and not taking off all the old oil is the secret?

    Regarding needles, would a DBx1 needle fit? They’re much bigger shank diameter but they fit some “12” machines.
    Dan H


    1. Hi Dan, most things can withstand a little dampness, even varnished veneers. The trick is indeed to just use a damp cloth, not a dripping wet one, and to wipe it dry quickly. Unless it’s made of sugar, it will survive. ๐Ÿ™‚ And note how I said “use soap” – not “use water and soap”. I use a dry sponge and dip it into liquid soap such as a floor cleaner. I want the concentrated cleaner, not the water. I then wipe it off with a damp cloth – damp, not wet. Even raw iron doesn’t rust that quickly, and any flash rust is easy to remove afterwards. The 3-in-1 treatment after the wash is therefore essential.

      Regarding the needle, DBx1 is too thick as is. It all depends on the needle clamp – they are not all the same. I think I’ll have to do some drilling to widen the groove, but I want to have a closer look first. It will have to wait until September at least.


    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ I seem to prefer them when they need rescuing rather than those that have slept all this time under their wooden lids and are still in as new condition. It seems I choose Cinderella over the Sleeping Beauty! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ


  2. I so admire your foray into the repairs here. I wouldn’t look at it twice, truthfully, to repair, as it is not in my personality. However, I think it is a marvelous machine and admire people who have the patience to do such jobs, as I surely do not! Looking forward to seeing how this lovely machine progresses with your TLC.


  3. She’s certainly a beauty and she has a nice home now. Can just visualise the jigsaw of pieces going back on. Now what will you name her?


      1. Very fitting. I have an old mother of pearl machine – German methinks it is a Hengstenberg because of the beautiful case – called her Rosie because of the roses – but she is not a fiddle base. Some decals have gone a very pretty green too. Just annoying that whoever had the box after the owner, had wrenched it open, damaging the lock. But at least I can eventually display both – and use it now and again. Too pretty to hide in a pretty box! And I can refer to your needle instructions too – which is great! Lovely post, and so pleased to see Rosalie out and showing off her finery! ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. i can’t say that i have quite the enthusism for old machines as you; but the one i do have is an old timer. What i like about the olders is their simplicity and that – i almost swear to heaven – they could sew through armored steal. Thanks for keeping those elders on the map. They deserve some show off time.


    1. Well, my Jones Medium CS actually did sew through a 1mm thick steel bone – by mistake, of course, but there it was. This isn’t so difficult though. What is much harder is to sew very fine fabrics without chewing them up or tearing them to shreds – and not every vintage machine can do it. Progress seems to have gone towards sewing thicker and rougher materials, and fine silks got neglected. Today we have very fine synthetic fabrics that are accessible to everyone, and we have stretch fabrics and jersey – and this is where the oldest machines come into their own. This is why I restore them and adapt to modern needles etc. – to sew my finery and my jersey. Modern professional machines that can sew such materials are way out of my budget – in tens of thousands of pounds – and of course they are plain ugly next to the old girls in their gold and mother-of-pearl dresses. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Character and quality. Yes, who says the ladies can’t work with the tools; and really most older things, once sorted out some, will outlast any new item as supposed equals by 100 years. There you go. See, you’re already doing it! Salutes to ya.


  5. Hi Elena. I, too, have a Wertheim, but I think itโ€™s a Griffin, although itโ€™s so hard to tell! I was wondering if you would be able to add a photo of the inside of the shuttle mechanism to this post. My mech has a loose-ish metal arm screwed to the lefthand bobbin plate, but it doesnโ€™t seem to do anything very much. Also, do you know of any Wertheim-compatible boat shuttle suppliers? Just today I discover that my boat shuttle has a small corner broken off where the rod sits. Thanks in advance for any assistance. ๐Ÿ˜€ Mif


    1. The arm is supposed to push the shuttle up to make it easier to remove it. It’s a simple thing – pull out the plate all the way to the left and the arm pushes up the shuttle. It’s the same with most German TS machines.


      1. It’s not the shuttle lift lever – that one works fine now that I’ve oiled it. The one I’m talking about reaches right over the shuttle mechanism. And has a 90 degree bend at the end, which hangs downwards.

        Next question – needles! What are you using in your Wertheim? And, thanks for the super quick response!


      2. I’ll have a look at the lever when I get home. As for needles – I’ve got a few 12×1 but I’ll be drilling out the needle clamp to take standard DBx1 needles. There is no other way but to convert, in my opinion!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Mif, sorry for the confusion, I just realised that DBx1 needles don’t actually work in a Wertheim TS – they are too short. I used 108×3 needles instead, they are longer. Have been sewing happily with those today! ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Mif, sorry it took me forever but I finally managed to examine that bar under the slide plates that you were talking about. I see it and I have no idea what it does! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ Other than may be act as a guard to prevent the shuttle cradle move too far right? I would imagine if you were to stitch really fast, inertia might push it there, and may be it could get stuck? I’m just guessing here! They’ve been making these machines for two decades already when this model came out, so may be some people reported issues with the previous design? It’s pure speculation though.

      Regarding the needles, I discovered today that I can use DBx1 needles with thin shafts (they are not all the same, bizarrely). Try DBx1 by Organ or Groz-Beckert, but avoid those by Schmetz because they are thicker. It’s a very small difference but the thinner the better, of course. This is not a general solution for 12×1 machines, but works here.

      Liked by 1 person

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